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Thich Nhat Hanh writes with the voice of the Buddha ” —-Sogyal Rinpoche 


T I H 

MU AT 

HAN'S 

■t: 

The Miracle of Mindfulness 


An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation 

^^.Translated by Mobi Ho | 









Thich Nhat Hanh 


4 » 

Translated by Mobi Ho 


With Eleven Drawings by Vo-Dinh Mai 



The Miracle 
of Mindfulness 


An Introduction to the Practice 
of Meditation 


4* 




Beacon Press Boston 



Beacon Press 
25 Beacon Street 

Boston, Massachusetts 02108-2892 
www.beacon.org 

Beacon Press books 

are published under the auspices of 

the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. 

© 1975,1976 by Thich Nhat Hanh 

Preface and English translation © 1975,1976,1987 

by Mobi Ho 

Afterword © 1976 by James Forest 
Artwork © 1987 by Vo-Dinh Mai 
All rights reserved 

Printed in the United States of America 

09 08 07 06 05 11 10 9 8 7 

The Library of Congress catalogued the previous 
paperback edition as follows: 

Nhat Hanh, Thich. 

The miracle of mindfulness. 

Translation of Ph6p la cua su tinh thuc. 

ISBN 0-8070-1232-7 (cloth) 

ISBN 0-8070-1239-4 (paper) 

1. Meditation (Buddhism) 2. Buddhist meditations. 
L Tide. 

BQ5618.V5N4813 1987 294.3'433 87-42582 



4 » 

Contents 


Translator's Preface by Mobi Ho vii 
One 

The Essential Discipline 1 
Two 

The Miracle Is to Walk on Earth 11 
Three 

A Day of Mindfulness 27 
Four 

The Pebble 33 
Five 

One Is All, All Is One: The Five Aggregates 
Six 

The Almond Tree in Your Front Yard 55 
Seven 

Three Wondrous Answers 69 


45 


v 



Exercises in Mindfulness 79 

Nhat Hanh: Seeing with the Eyes of Compassion 
by James Forest 101 

Selection of Buddhist Sutras 109 



Translator's Preface 


The Miracle of Mindfulness was originally written in 
Vietnamese as a long letter to Brother Quang, a 
main staff member of the School of Youth for So¬ 
cial Service in South Vietnam in 1974. Its author, 
the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, had 
founded the School in the 1960s as an outgrowth 
of "engaged Buddhism." It drew young people 
deeply committed to acting in a spirit of compas¬ 
sion. Upon graduation, the students used the 
training they received to respond to the needs of 
peasants caught in the turmoil of the war. They 
helped rebuild bombed villages, teach children, 
set up medical stations, and organize agricultural 
cooperatives. 

The workers' methods of reconciliation were 
often misunderstood in the atmosphere of fear 
and mistrust engendered by the war. They per¬ 
sistently refused to support either armed party 



and believed that both sides were but the reflec¬ 
tion of one reality, and the true enemies were not 
people, but ideology, hatred, and ignorance. 
Their stance threatened those engaged in the con¬ 
flict, and in the first years of the School, a series 
of attacks were carried out against the students. 
Several were kidnapped and murdered. As the 
war dragged on, even after the Paris Peace Ac¬ 
cords were signed in 1973, it seemed at times im¬ 
possible not to succumb to exhaustion and 
bitterness. Continuing to work in a spirit of love 
and understanding required great courage. 

From exile in France, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote 
to Brother Quang to encourage the workers dur¬ 
ing this dark time. Thay Nhat Hanh ("Thay," the 
form of address for Vietnamese monks, means 
"teacher") wished to remind them of the essential 
discipline of following one's breath to nourish and 
maintain calm mindfulness, even in the midst of 
the most difficult circumstances. Because Brother 
Quang and the students were his colleagues and 
friends, the spirit of this long letter that became 
The Miracle of Mindfulness is personal and direct. 
When Thay speaks here of village paths, he 
speaks of paths he had actually walked with 
Brother Quang. When he mentions the bright eyes 
of a young child, he mentions the name of Brother 
Quang's own son. 

I was living as an American volunteer with 
the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation in 
Paris when Thay was writing the letter. Thay 
headed the delegation, which served as an over- 



seas liaison office for the peace and reconstruction 
efforts of the Vietnamese Buddhists, including the 
School of Youth for Social Service. I remember late 
evenings over tea, when Thay explained sections 
of the letter to delegation members and a few close 
friends. Quite naturally, we began to think of 
other people in other countries who might also 
benefit from the practices described in the book. 

Thay had recently become acquainted with 
young Buddhists in Thailand who had been in¬ 
spired by the witness of engaged Buddhism in 
Vietnam. They too wished to act in a spirit of 
awareness and reconciliation to help avert the 
armed conflict erupting in Thailand, and they 
wanted to know how to work without being over¬ 
come by anger and discouragement. Several of 
them spoke English, and we discussed translating 
Brother Quang's letter. The idea of a translation 
took on a special poignancy when the confiscation 
of Buddhist publishing houses in Vietnam made 
the project of printing the letter as a small book 
in Vietnam impossible. 

I happily accepted the task of translating the 
book into English. For nearly three years, I had 
been living with the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace 
Delegation, where day and night I was immersed 
in the lyrical sound of the Vietnamese language. 
Thay had been my "formal” Vietnamese teacher; 
we had slowly read through some of his earlier 
books, sentence by sentence. I had thus acquired 
a rather unusual vocabulary of Vietnamese 
Buddhist terms. Thay, of course, had been teach- 


IX 



ing me far more than language during those three 
years. His presence was a constant gentle re¬ 
minder to return to one's true self, to be awake 
by being mindful. 

As I sat down to translate The Miracle of Mind¬ 
fulness, I remembered the episodes during the past 
years that had nurtured my own practice of mind¬ 
fulness. There was the time I was cooking fu¬ 
riously and could not find a spoon I'd set down 
amid a scattered pile of pans and ingredients. As 
I searched here and there, Thay entered the 
kitchen and smiled. He asked, “What is Mobi 
looking for?" Of course, I answered, “The spoon! 
I'm looking for a spoon!" Thay answered, again 
with a smile, “No, Mobi is looking for Mobi." 

Thay suggested I do the translation slowly 
and steadily, in order to maintain mindfulness. I 
translated only two pages a day. In the evenings, 
Thay and I went over those pages, changing and 
correcting words and sentences. Other friends 
provided editorial assistance. It is difficult to de¬ 
scribe the actual experience of translating his 
words, but my awareness of the feel of pen and 
paper, awareness of the position of my body and 
of my breath enabled me to see most clearly the 
mindfulness with which Thay had written each 
word. As I watched my breath, I could see Brother 
Quang and the workers of the School of Youth 
for Social Service. More than that, I began to see 
that the words held the same personal and lively 
directness for any reader because they had been 


x 



written in mindfulness and lovingly directed to 
real people. As I continued to translate, I could 
see an expanding community—the School's work¬ 
ers, the young Thai Buddhists, and many other 
friends throughout the world. 

When the translation was completed we 
typed it, and Thay printed a hundred copies on 
the tiny offset machine squeezed into the dele¬ 
gation's bathroom. Mindfully addressing each 
copy to friends in many countries was a happy 
task for delegation members. 

Since then, like ripples in a pond, The Miracle 
of Mindfulness has traveled far. It has been trans¬ 
lated into several other languages and has been 
printed or distributed on every continent in the 
world. One of the joys of being the translator has 
been to hear from many people who have discov¬ 
ered the book. I once met someone in a bookstore 
who knew a student who had taken a copy to 
friends in the Soviet Union. And recently, I met 
a young Iraqi student in danger of being deported 
to his homeland, where he faces death for his 
refusal to fight in a war he believes cruel and 
senseless; he and his mother have both read The 
Miracle of Mindfulness and are practicing awareness 
of the breath. I have learned, too, that proceeds 
from the Portuguese edition are being used to as¬ 
sist poor children in Brazil. Prisoners, refugees, 
health-care workers, educators, and artists are 
among those whose lives have been touched by 
this little book. I often think of The Miracle ofMind- 


xi 



fulness as something of a miracle itself, a vehicle 
that continues to connect lives throughout the 
world. 

American Buddhists have been impressed by 
the natural and unique blending of Theravada and 
Mahayana traditions, characteristic of Vietnamese 
Buddhism, which the book expresses. As a book 
on the Buddhist path. The Miracle of Mindfulness 
is special because its clear and simple emphasis 
on basic practice enables any reader to begin a 
practice of his or her own immediately. Interest 
in the book, however, is not limited to Buddhists. 
It has found a home with people of many different 
religious traditions. One's breath, after all, is 
hardly attached to any particular creed. 

Those who enjoy this book will likely be in¬ 
terested in other books by Thich Nhat Hanh which 
have been translated into English. His books in 
Vietnamese, including short stories, novels, es¬ 
says, historical treatises on Buddhism and poetry, 
number in the dozens. While several of his earlier 
books in English are no longer in print, more re¬ 
cent works available in translation include A Guide 
to Walking Meditation, Being Peace, and The Sun My 
Heart. 

Denied permission to return to Vietnam, 
Thich Nhat Hanh spends most of the year living 
in Plum Village, a community he helped found in 
France. There, under the guidance of the same 
Brother Quang to whom The Miracle of Mindfulness 
was originally addressed years ago, community 
members tend hundreds of plum trees. Profits 



from the sales of their fruit are used to assist hun¬ 
gry children in Vietnam. In addition. Plum Village 
is open every summer to visitors from around the 
world who wish to spend a month of mindfulness 
and meditation. In recent years, Thich Nhat Hanh 
has also made annual visits to the United States 
and Canada to conduct week-long retreats orga¬ 
nized by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. 

I would like to express special gratitude to 
Beacon Press for having the vision to print this 
new edition of The Miracle of Mindfulness. I hope 
that each new person whom it reaches will sense 
that the book is addressed as personally to him 
or her as it was to Brother Quang and the workers 
of the School of Youth for Social Service. 


Mobi Ho 
August 1987 









The Miracle of 
Mindfulness 






One 

The Essential Discipline 


T Yesterday Allen came over to visit 
with his son Joey. Joey has grown so 
quickly! He's already seven years old 
and is fluent in French and English. He even uses 
a bit of slang he's picked up on the street. Raising 
children here is very different from the way we 
raise children at home. Here parents believe that 
"freedom is necessary for a child's development." 
During the two hours that Allen and I were 
talking, Allen had to keep a constant eye on Joey. 
Joey played, chattered away, and interrupted 
us, making it impossible to carry on a real con¬ 
versation. I gave him several picture books for 
children but he barely glanced at them before 
tossing them aside and interrupting our con¬ 
versation again. He demands the constant atten¬ 
tion of grown-ups. 

Later, Joey put on his jacket and went out¬ 
side to play with a neighbor's child. I asked 
Allen, "Do you find family life easy?" Allen 


1 



didn't answer directly. He said that during the 
past few weeks, since the birth of Ana, he had 
been unable to sleep any length of time. During 
the night. Sue wakes him up and—because she 
is too tired herself—asks him to check to make 
sure Ana is still breathing. "I get up and look 
at the baby and then come back and fall asleep 
again. Sometimes the ritual happens two or 
three times a night." 

"Is family life easier than being a bache¬ 
lor?" I asked. Allen didn't answer directly. But 
I understood. I asked another question: "A lot 
of people say that if you have a family you're 
less lonely and have more security. Is that 
true?" Allen nodded his head and mumbled 
something softly. But I understood. 

Then Allen said, "I've discovered a way to 
have a lot more time. In the past, I used to look 
at my time as if it were divided into several 
parts. One part I reserved for Joey, another part 
was for Sue, another part to help with Ana, an¬ 
other part for household work. The time left 
over I considered my own. I could read, write, 
do research, go for walks. 

"But now I try not to divide time into parts 
anymore. I consider my time with Joey and Sue 
as my own time. When I help Joey with his home¬ 
work, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my 
own time. I go through his lesson with him, 
sharing his presence and finding ways to be 
interested in what we do during that time. The 
time for him becomes my own time. The same 
with Sue. The remarkable thing is that now I 
have unlimited time for myself!" 


2 



Allen smiled as he spoke. I was surprised. 

I knew that Allen hadn't learned this from read¬ 
ing any books. This was something he had 
discovered for himself in his own daily life. 

Washing the dishes to wash the dishes 

Thirty years ago, when I was still a novice 
at Tu Hieu Pagoda, washing the dishes was 
hardly a pleasant task. During the Season of 
Retreat when all the monks returned to the 
monastery, two novices had to do all the cooking 
and wash the dishes for sometimes well over 
one hundred monks. There was no soap. We had 
only ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks, and 
that was all. Cleaning such a high stack of bowls 
was a chore, especially during the winter when 
the water was freezing cold. Then you had to 
heat up a big pot of water before you could do 
any scrubbing. Nowadays one stands in a kitchen 
equipped with liquid soap, special scrubpads, 
and even running hot water which makes it all 
the more agreeable. It is easier to enjoy washing 
the dishes now. Anyone can wash them in a 
hurry, then sit down and enjoy a cup of tea 
afterwards. I can see a machine for washing 
clothes, although I wash my own things out by 
hand, but a dishwashing machine is going just 
a little too far! 

While washing the dishes one should only 
be washing the dishes, which means that while 
washing the dishes one should be completely 
aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. 
At first glance, that might seem a little silly: 


3 



why put so much stress on a simple thing? But 
that's precisely the point. The fact that I am 
standing there and washing these bowls is a 
wondrous reality. I'm being completely myself, 
following my breath, conscious of my presence, 
and conscious of my thoughts and actions. 
There's no way I can be tossed around mind¬ 
lessly like a bottle slapped here and there on 
the waves. 

The cup in your hands 

In the United States, I have a close friend 
named Jim Forest. When I first met him eight 
years ago, he was working with the Catholic 
Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. 
I usually wash the dishes after we've finished 
the evening meal, before sitting down and drink¬ 
ing tea with everyone else. One night, Jim asked 
if he might do the dishes. I said, "Go ahead, but 
if you wash the dishes you must know the way 
to wash them." Jim replied, "Come on, you think 
I don't know how to wash the dishes?" I an¬ 
swered, "There are two ways to wash the dishes. 
The first is to wash the dishes in order to have 
clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes 
in order to wash the dishes." Jim was delighted 
and said, "I choose the second way—to wash the 
dishes to wash the dishes." From then on, Jim 
knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the 
"responsibility" to him for an entire week. 

If while washing dishes, we think only 
of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying 
to get the dishes out of the way as if they were 


4 



a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes 
to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not 
alive during the time we are washing the dishes. 
In fact we are completely incapable of realizing 
the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If 
we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we 
won't be able to drink our tea either. While 
drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking 
of other things, barely aware of the cup in our 
hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future 
—and we are incapable of actually living one 
minute of life. 

Eating a tangerine 

I remember a number of years ago, when 
Jim and I were first traveling together in the 
United States, we sat under a tree and shared a 
tangerine. He began to talk about what we 
would be doing in the future. Whenever we 
thought about a project that seemed attractive 
or inspiring, Jim became so immersed in it that 
he literally forgot about what he was doing in 
the present. He popped a section of tangerine 
in his mouth and, before he had begun chewing 
it, had another slice ready to pop into his mouth 
again. He was hardly aware he was eating a 
tangerine. All I had to say was, "You ought to 
eat the tangerine section you've already taken." 
Jim was startled into realizing what he was 
doing. 

It was as if he hadn't been eating the tan¬ 
gerine at all. If he had been eating anything, he 
was "eating" his future plans. 


5 



A tangerine has sections. If you can eat just 
one section, you can probably eat the entire 
tangerine. But if you can't eat a single section, 
you cannot eat the tangerine. Jim understood. He 
slowly put his hand down and focused on the 
presence of the slice already in his mouth. He 
chewed it thoughtfully before reaching down 
and taking another section. 

Later, when Jim went to prison for activities 
against the war, I was worried about whether 
he could endure the four walls of prison and sent 
him a very short letter: "Do you remember the 
tangerine we shared when we were together? 
Your being there is like the tangerine. Eat it and 
be one with it. Tomorrow it will be no more." 

The Essential Discipline 

More than thirty years ago, when I first 
entered the monastery, the monks gave me a 
small book called "The Essential Discipline for 
Daily Use," written by the Buddhist monk Doc 
The from Bao Son pagoda, and they told me to 
memorize it. It was a thin book. It couldn't have 
been more than 40 pages, but it contained all 
the thoughts Doc The used to awaken his mind 
while doing any task. When he woke up in the 
morning, his first thought was, "Just awakened, 
I hope that every person will attain great aware¬ 
ness and see in complete clarity." When he 
washed his hands, he used this thought to place 
himself in mindfulness: "Washing my hands, I 
hope that every person will have pure hands to 
receive reality." The book is comprised entirely 


6 



of such sentences. Their goal was to help the 
beginning practitioner take hold of his own 
consciousness. The Zen Master Doc The helped 
all of us young novices to practice, in a relatively 
easy way, those things which are taught in the 
Sutra of Mindfulness. Each time you put on 
your robe, washed the dishes, went to the bath¬ 
room, folded your mat, carried buckets of water, 
or brushed your teeth, you could use one of the 
thoughts from the book in order to take hold 
of your own consciousness. 

The Sutra of Mindfulness* says, "When 
walking, the practitioner must be conscious that 
he is walking. When sitting, the practitioner 
must be conscious that he is sitting. When lying 
down, the practitioner must be conscious that 
he is lying down. . . . No matter what position 
one's body is in, the practitioner must be con¬ 
scious of that position. Practicing thus, the 
practitioner lives in direct and constant mind¬ 
fulness of the body . . ." The mindfulness of 


*ln the Sutras, Buddha usually teaches that one should 
use one's breath in order to achieve Concentration. The Sutra 
which speaks about the use of your breath to maintain mind¬ 
fulness is the Anapanasati Sutra. This Sutra was translated 
and commentated on by a Vietnamese Zen Master of Central 
Asian origin named Khuong Tang Hoi, around the beginning 
of the Third Century A.D. Anapana means breath and sati 
means mindfulness. Tang Hoi translated it as "Guarding the 
Mind." The Anapanasati Sutra, that is, is the sutra on using 
one's breath to maintain mindfulness. The Sutra on Breath to 
Maintain Mindfulness is the 118th Sutra in the Majhima 
Nikaya collection of sutras and it teaches 16 methods of using 
one's breath. 


7 



the positions of one's body is not enough, how¬ 
ever. We must be conscious of each breath, each 
movement, every thought and feeling, every¬ 
thing which has any relation to ourselves. 

But what is the purpose of the Sutra's 
instruction? Where are we to find the time to 
practice such mindfulness? If you spend all day 
practicing mindfulness, how will there ever be 
enough time to do all the work that needs to 
be done to change and to build an alternative 
society? How does Allen manage to work, 
study Joey's lesson, take Ana's diapers to the 
laundromat, and practice mindfulness at the 
same time? 


8 









Two 

The Miracle Is 
to Walk on Earth 


T Allen said that since he's begun to 
consider Joey's and Sue's time as his 
own, he has "unlimited time." But per¬ 
haps he has it only in principle. Because there 
are doubtless times when Allen forgets to con¬ 
sider Joey's time as his own time while going 
over Joey's homework with him, and thus Allen 
may lose that time. Allen might hope for the 
time to pass quickly, or he may grow impatient 
because that time seems wasted to him, because 
it isn't his own time. And so, if he really wants 
"unlimited time," he will have to keep alive the 
realization that "this is my time" throughout 
the time he's studying with Joey. But during 
such times, one's mind is inevitably distracted 
by other thoughts, and so if one really wants 
to keep one's consciousness alive (from now on 
I'll use the term "mindfulness" to refer to keep¬ 
ing one's consciousness alive to the present 
reality), then one must practice right now in 


11 



one's daily life, not only during meditation 
sessions. 

When you are walking along a path leading 
into a village, you can practice mindfulness. 
Walking along a dirt path, surrounded by 
patches of green grass, if you practice mindful¬ 
ness you will experience that path, the path 
leading into the village. You practice by keeping 
this one thought alive: “I'm walking along the 
path leading into the village." Whether it's 
sunny or rainy, whether the path is dry or wet, 
you keep that one thought, but not just repeat¬ 
ing it like a machine, over and over again. Ma¬ 
chine thinking is the opposite of mindfulness. If 
we're really engaged in mindfulness while walk¬ 
ing along the path to the village, then we will 
consider the act of each step we take as an 
infinite wonder, and a joy will open our hearts 
like a flower, enabling us to enter the world 
of reality. 

I like to walk alone on country paths, rice 
plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting 
each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, 
knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. 
In such moments, existence is a miraculous 
and mysterious reality. People usually consider 
walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But 
I think the real miracle is not to walk either on 
water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every 
day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't 
even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green 
leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our 
own two eyes. All is a miracle. 


12 



Sitting 


Zen Master Doc The says that when sitting 
in meditation, one should sit upright, giving 
birth to this thought, "Sitting here is like sitting 
on the Bodhi spot." The Bodhi spot is where 
Lord Buddha sat when he obtained Enlighten¬ 
ment. If any person can become a Buddha, and 
the Buddhas are all those countless persons 
who have obtained enlightenment, then many 
have sat on the very spot I sit on now. Sitting 
on the same spot as a Buddha gives rise to 
happiness and sitting in mindfulness means 
itself to have become a Buddha. The poet Ngu¬ 
yen Cong Tru experienced the same thing 
when he sat down on a certain spot, and sud¬ 
denly saw how others had sat on the same spot 
countless ages ago, and how in ages to come 
others would also come to sit there: 

On the same spot I sit today 

Others came, in ages past, to sit. 

One thousand years, still others will come. 

Who is the singer, and who the listener? 

That spot and the minutes he spent there be¬ 
came a link in eternal reality. 

But active, concerned people don't have time 
to spend leisurely, walking along paths of green 
grass and sitting beneath trees. One must pre¬ 
pare projects, consult with the neighbors, try 
to resolve a million difficulties; there is hard 
work to do. One must deal with every kind of 
hardship, every moment keeping one's atten- 


13 



tion focused on the work, alert, ready to handle 
the situation ably and intelligently. 

You might well ask: Then how are we to 
practice mindfulness? 

My answer is: keep your attention focused 
on the work, be alert and ready to handle ably 
and intelligently any situation which may arise 
—this is mindfulness. There is no reason why 
mindfulness should be different from focusing 
all one's attention on one's work, to be alert and 
to be using one's best judgment. During the 
moment one is consulting, resolving, and deal¬ 
ing with whatever arises, a calm heart and self- 
control are necessary if one is to obtain good 
results. Anyone can see that. If we are not in con¬ 
trol of ourselves but instead let our impatience 
or anger interfere, then our work is no longer 
of any value. 

Mindfulness is the miracle by which we 
master and restore ourselves. Consider, for 
example: a magician who cuts his body into 
many parts and places each part in a different 
region—hands in the south, arms in the east, 
legs in the north, and then by some miraculous 
power lets forth a cry which reassembles whole 
every part of his body. Mindfulness is like that 
—it is the miracle which can call back in a flash 
our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness 
so that we can live each minute of life. 

Taking hold of one's breath 

Thus mindfulness is at the same time a 
means and an end, the seed and the fruit. When 


14 



we practice mindfulness in order to build up 
concentration, mindfulness is a seed. But mind¬ 
fulness itself is the life of awareness: the pres¬ 
ence of mindfulness means the presence of life, 
and therefore mindfulness is also the fruit. 
Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dis¬ 
persion and makes it possible to live fully each 
minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live. 

You should know how to breathe to main¬ 
tain mindfulness, as breathing is a natural and 
extremely effective tool which can prevent 
dispersion. Breath is the bridge which connects 
life to consciousness, which unites your body 
to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes 
scattered, use your breath as the means to take 
hold of your mind again. 

Breathe in lightly a fairly long breath, con¬ 
scious of the fact that you are inhaling a deep 
breath. Now breathe out all the breath in your 
lungs, remaining conscious the whole time of 
the exhalation. The Sutra of Mindfulness teaches 
the method to take hold of one's breath in the 
following manner: "Be ever mindful you breathe 
in and mindful you breathe out. Breathing in a 
long breath, you know, 'I am breathing in a long 
breath.' Breathing out a long breath, you know, 
'I am breathing out a long breath.' Breathing 
in a short breath, you know, 'I am breathing in a 
short breath.' Breathing out a short breath, you 
know, 'I am breathing out a short breath.'" 

"Experiencing a whole breath-body, I shall 
breathe in," thus you train yourself. "Exper¬ 
iencing the whole breath-body, I shall breathe 
out," thus you train yourself. "Calming the 


15 



activity of the breath-body, I shall breathe in," 
thus you train yourself. "Calming the activity 
of the breath-body, I shall breathe out," thus 
you train yourself. 

In a Buddhist monastery, everyone learns 
to use breath as a tool to stop mental dispersion 
and to build up concentration power. Concen¬ 
tration power is the strength which comes 
from practicing mindfulness. It is the concen¬ 
tration which can help one obtain the Great 
Awakening. When a worker takes hold of his 
own breath, he has already become awakened. 
In order to maintain mindfulness throughout a 
long period, we must continue to watch our 
breath. 

w 

It is autumn here and the golden leaves fall¬ 
ing one by one are truly beautiful. Taking a 
10-minute walk in the woods, watching my 
breath and maintaining mindfulness, I feel 
refreshed and restored. Like that, I can really 
enter into a communion with each leaf. 

Of course, walking alone on a country path, 
it is easier to maintain mindfulness. If there's a 
friend by your side, not talking but also watch¬ 
ing his breath, then you can continue to main¬ 
tain mindfulness without difficulty. But if 
the friend at your side begins to talk, it becomes 
a little more difficult. 

If, in your mind, you think, "I wish this 
fellow would quit talking, so I could concen¬ 
trate," you have already lost your mindfulness. 
But if you think, instead, "If he wishes to talk, 
I will answer, but I will continue in mindfulness. 


16 



aware of the fact that we are walking along 
this path together, aware of what we say, I 
can continue to watch my breath as well." 

If you can give rise to that thought, you 
will be continuing in mindfulness. It is harder 
to practice in such situations than when you are 
alone, but if you continue to practice nonethe¬ 
less, you will develop the ability to maintain 
much greater concentration. There is a line from 
a Vietnamese folk song that says: "Hardest of 
all is to practice the Way at home, second in the 
crowd, and third in the pagoda." It is only in an 
active and demanding situation that mindful¬ 
ness really becomes a challenge! 

Counting one's breath and following one's 
breath 

In the meditation sessions I recently began 
for non-Vietnamese, I usually suggest various 
methods that I myself have tried, methods that 
are quite simple. I suggest to beginners the 
method of "Following the length of the 
breath." The student lies, back down, on the 
floor. Then I invite all of the participants to 
gather around so I can show them a few simple 
points: 

1) Although inhaling and exhaling are the 
work of the lungs, and take place in the 
chest area, the stomach area also plays 
a role. The stomach rises with the filling 
of the lungs. At the beginning of the 
breath the stomach begins to push out. 
But after inhaling about two-thirds of 
the breath, it starts to lower again. 


17 



2) Why? Between your chest and stomach 
there is a muscular membrane, the 
diaphragm. When you breathe in cor¬ 
rectly the air fills the lower part of the 
lungs first, before the upper lungs fill 
with air, the diaphragm pushes down 
on the stomach, causing the stomach to 
rise. When you have filled your upper 
lungs with air, the chest pushes out and 
causes the stomach to lower again. 

3) That is why, in former times, people 
spoke of the breath as originating at 
the navel and terminating at the 
nostrils. 

For beginners, lying down to practice 
breathing is very helpful. The important thing 
is to guard against making too much of an 
effort: too great an effort can be dangerous 
for the lungs, especially when the lungs are 
weak from many years of incorrect breathing. 
In the beginning, the practitioner should lie 
on his or her back on a thin mat or blanket, the 
two arms loosely at the sides. Don't prop your 
head on a pillow. Focus your attention on your 
exhalation and watch how long it is. Measure 
it slowly by counting in your mind: 1, 2, 3. . . 
After several times, you will know the "length" 
of your breath: Perhaps it is 5. Now try to ex¬ 
tend the exhalation for one more count (or 2) 
so that the exhalation's length becomes 6 or 7. 
Begin to exhale counting from 1 to 5. When you 
reach 5, rather than immediately inhaling as 


18 



before, try to extend the exhalation to 6 or 7. 
This way you will empty your lungs of more 
air. When you have finished exhaling, pause for 
an instant to let your lungs take in fresh air on 
their own. Let them take in just as much air as 
they want without making any effort. The 
inhalation will normally be "shorter" than the 
exhalation. Keep a steady count in your mind to 
measure the length of both. Practice several 
weeks like this, remaining mindful of all your 
exhalations and inhalations while lying down. 
(If you have a clock with a loud tick you can 
use it to help you keep track of the length of 
your inhalation and exhalation.) 

Continue to measure your breath while 
walking, sitting, standing, and especially when¬ 
ever you are outdoors. While walking, you 
might use your steps to measure your breath. 
After a month or so, the difference between the 
length of your exhalation and inhalation will 
lessen, gradually evening out until they are of 
equal measure. If the length of your exhalation 
is 6, the inhalation will also be 6. 

If you feel at all tired while practicing, stop 
at once. But even if you do not feel tired, don't 
prolong the practice of long, equal breaths 
beyond short periods of time—10 to 20 breaths 
are enough. The moment you feel the least 
fatigue, return your breathing to normal. Fa¬ 
tigue is an excellent mechanism of our bodies 
and the best advisor as to whether one should 
rest or continue. In order to measure your 
breath you can count—or use a rhythmic phrase 
that you like. (If the length of your breath is 


19 



6, you might use instead of numbers, the six 
words, "My heart is now at peace." If the length 
is 7 you might use, "I walk on the new green 
earth." A Buddhist might say, "I take refuge in 
the Buddha." For a Christian it could be "Our 
Father who art in heaven." When you are walk¬ 
ing, each step should correspond to one word. 

Quiet breathing 

Your breath should be light, even, and 
flowing, like a thin stream of water running 
through the sand. Your breath should be very 
quiet, so quiet that a person sitting next to you 
cannot hear it. Your breathing should flow grace¬ 
fully, like a river, like a watersnake crossing 
the water, and not like a chain of rugged moun¬ 
tains or the gallop of a horse. To master our 
breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds. 
Each time we find ourselves dispersed and find 
it difficult to gain control of ourselves by dif¬ 
ferent means, the method of watching the 
breath should always be used. 

The instant you sit down to meditate, begin 
watching your breath. At first breathe normally, 
gradually letting your breathing slow down 
until it is quiet, even, and the lengths of the 
breaths are fairly long. From the moment you 
sit down to the moment your breathing has 
become deep and silent, be conscious of every¬ 
thing that is happening in yourself. 

As the Buddhist Sutra of Mindfulness says: 
"Breathing in a long breath, you know, 'I am 
breathing in a long breath.' Breathing out a long 


20 



breath, the practitioner knows, 'I am breathing 
out a long breath/ Breathing in a short breath, 
you know, 'I am breathing in a short breath/ 
Breathing out a short breath, you know, 'I am 
breathing out a short breath/ Experiencing the 
whole breath-body, I shall breathe in." Thus 
you train yourself. "Experiencing the whole 
breath-body, I shall breathe out." Thus you 
train yourself. "Calming the activity of the 
breath-body, I shall breathe in." Thus you train 
yourself. "Calming the activity of the breath- 
body, I shall breathe out." Thus you train 
yourself. 

After about 10 to 20 minutes, your thoughts 
will have quieted down like a pond on which not 
even a ripple stirs. 

Counting your breath 

Making your breath calm and even is called 
the method of following one's breath. If it seems 
hard at first, you can substitute the method of 
counting your breath. As you breathe in, count 
1 in your mind, and as you breathe out, count 1. 
Breathe in, count 2. Breathe out, count 2. Con¬ 
tinue through 10, then return to 1 again. This 
counting is like a string which attaches your 
mindfulness to your breath. This exercise is the 
beginning point in the process of becoming con¬ 
tinuously conscious of your breath. Without 
mindfulness, however, you will quickly lose 
count. When the count is lost, simply return to 
1 and keep trying until you can keep the count 
correctly. Once you can truly focus your atten- 


21 



tion on the counts, you have reached the point 
at which you can begin to abandon the counting 
method and begin to concentrate solely on the 
breath itself. 

In those moments when you are upset or 
dispersed and find it difficult to practice mind¬ 
fulness, return to your breath: Taking hold of 
your breath is itself mindfulness. Your breath 
is the wondrous method of taking hold of your 
consciousness. As one religious community says 
in its rule, "One should not lose oneself in mind- 
dispersion or in one's surroundings. Learn to 
practice breathing in order to regain control of 
body and mind, to practice mindfulness, and to 
develop concentration and wisdom." 

Every act is a rite 

Suppose there is a towering wall from the 
top of which one can see vast distances—but 
there is no apparent means to climb it, only a 
thin piece of thread hanging over the top and 
coming down both sides. A clever person will tie 
a thicker string onto one end of the thread, 
walk over to the other side of the wall, then 
pull on the thread bringing the string to the 
other side. Then he will tie the end of the string 
to a strong rope and pull the rope over. When 
the rope has reached the bottom of one side and 
is secured on the other side, the wall can be 
easily scaled. 

Our breath is such a fragile piece of thread. 
But once we know how to use it, it can become 
a wondrous tool to help us surmount situations 


22 



which would otherwise seem hopeless. Our 
breath is the bridge from our body to our mind, 
the element which reconciles our body and mind 
and which makes possible one-ness of body and 
mind. Breath is aligned to both body and mind 
and it alone is the tool which can bring them 
both together, illuminating both and bringing 
both peace and calm. 

Many persons and books discuss the im¬ 
mense benefits that result from correct breath¬ 
ing. They report that a person who knows how 
to breathe is a person who knows how to build 
up endless vitality: breath builds up the lungs, 
strengthens the blood, and revitalizes every 
organ in the body. They say that proper breath¬ 
ing is more important than food. And all of these 
statements are correct. 

Years ago, I was extremely ill. After several 
years of taking medicine and undergoing medical 
treatment, my condition was unimproved. So I 
turned to the method of breathing and, thanks 
to that, was able to heal myself. 

Breath is a tool. Breath itself is mindfulness. 
The use of breath as a tool may help one obtain 
immense benefits, but these cannot be considered 
as ends in themselves. These benefits are only 
the by-products of the realization of mindful¬ 
ness. 

In my small class in meditation for non- 
Vietnamese, there are many young people. I've 
told them that if each one can meditate an hour 
each day that's good, but it's nowhere near 
enough. You've got to practice meditation when 
you walk, stand, lie down, sit, and work, while 


23 



washing your hands, washing the dishes, sweep¬ 
ing the floor, drinking tea, talking to friends, 
or whatever you are doing: "While washing 
the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea 
afterwards, and so try to get them out of the 
way as quickly as possible in order to sit and 
drink tea. But that means that you are incapable 
of living during the time you are washing the 
dishes. When you are washing the dishes, wash¬ 
ing the dishes must be the most important thing 
in your life. Just as when you're drinking tea, 
drinking tea must be the most important thing 
in your life. When you're using the toilet, let 
that be the most important thing in your life." 
And so on. Chopping wood is meditation. Carry¬ 
ing water is meditation. Be mindful 24 hours a 
day, not just during the one hour you may allot 
for formal meditation or reading scripture and 
reciting prayers. Each act must be carried out in 
mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony. 
Raising your cup of tea to your mouth is a rite. 
Does the word "rite" seem too solemn? I use 
that word in order to jolt you into the realization 
of the life-and-death matter of awareness. 


24 








Three 

A Day of Mindfulness 


T Every day and every hour, one should 
practice mindfulness. That's easy to 
say, but to carry it out in practice is 
not. That's why I suggest to those who come to 
the meditation sessions that each person should 
try hard to reserve one day out of the week to 
devote entirely to their practice of mindfulness. 
In principle, of course every day should be your 
day, and every hour your hour. But the fact 
is that very few of us have reached such a point. 
We have the impression that our family, place 
of work, and society rob us of all our time. So I 
urge that everyone set aside one day each week. 
Saturday, perhaps. 

If it is Saturday, then Saturday must be 
entirely your day, a day during which you are 
completely the master. Then Saturday will be 
the lever that will lift you to the habit of 
practicing mindfulness. Every worker in a peace 
or service community, no matter how urgent 


27 



its work, has the right to such a day, for with¬ 
out it we will lose ourselves quickly in a life 
full of worry and action, and our responses will 
become increasingly useless. Whatever the day 
chosen, it can be considered as the day of mind¬ 
fulness. 

To set up a day of mindfulness, figure out 
a way to remind yourself at the moment of wak¬ 
ing that this day is your day of mindfulness. You 
might hang something on the ceiling or on the 
wall, a paper with the word "mindfulness" or a 
pinebranch—anything that will suggest to you 
as you open your eyes and see it that today is 
your day of mindfulness. Today is your day. 
Remembering that, perhaps you can feel a smile 
which affirms that you are in complete mind¬ 
fulness, a smile that nourishes that perfect 
mindfulness. 

While still lying in bed, begin slowly to fol¬ 
low your breath—slow, long, and conscious 
breaths. Then slowly rise from bed (instead of 
turning out all at once as usual), nourishing 
mindfulness by every motion. Once up, brush 
your teeth, wash your face, and do all your 
morning activities in a calm and relaxing way, 
each movement done in mindfulness. Follow 
your breath, take hold of it, and don't let your 
thoughts scatter. Each movement should be 
done calmly. Measure your steps with quiet, 
long breaths. Maintain a half smile. 

Spend at least a half hour taking a bath. 
Bathe slowly and mindfully, so that by the time 
you have finished, you feel light and refreshed. 
Afterwards, you might do household work 


28 



such as washing dishes, dusting and wiping 
off the tables, scrubbing the kitchen floor, 
arranging books on their shelves. Whatever the 
tasks, do them slowly and with ease, in mind¬ 
fulness. Don't do any task in order to get it over 
with. Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, 
with all your attention. Enjoy and be one with 
your work. Without this, the day of mindful¬ 
ness will be of no value at all. The feeling that 
any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it 
is done in mindfulness. Take the example of the 
Zen Masters. No matter what task or motion 
they undertake, they do it slowly and evenly, 
without reluctance. 

For those who are just beginning to prac¬ 
tice, it is best to maintain a spirit of silence 
throughout the day. That doesn't mean that on 
the day of mindfulness, you shouldn't speak at 
all. You can talk, you can even go ahead and sing, 
but if you talk or sing, do it in complete mind¬ 
fulness of what you are saying or singing, and 
keep talking and singing to a minimum. Nat¬ 
urally, it is possible to sing and practice mind¬ 
fulness at the same time, just as long as one is 
conscious of the fact that one is singing and 
aware of what one is singing. But be warned 
that it is much easier, when singing or talking, 
to stray from mindfulness if your meditation 
strength is still weak. 

At lunchtime, prepare a meal for yourself. 
Cook the meal and wash the dishes in mindful¬ 
ness. In the morning, after you have cleaned 
and straightened up your house, and in the 
afternoon, after you have worked in the garden 


29 



or watched clouds or gathered flowers, prepare 
a pot of tea to sit and drink in mindfulness. Allow 
yourself a good length of time to do this. Don't 
drink your tea like someone who gulps down 
a cup of coffee during a workbreak. Drink your 
tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on 
which the whole earth revolves—slowly, 
evenly, without rushing toward the future. 
Live the actual moment. Only this actual mo¬ 
ment is life. Don't be attached to the future. 
Don't worry about things you have to do. Don't 
think about getting up or taking off to do any¬ 
thing. Don't think about "departing." 

Be a bud sitting quietly in the hedge 
Be a smile, one part of wondrous existence 
Stand here. There is no need to depart , 

This homeland is as beautiful as the homeland of 
our childhood 

Do not harm it, please, and continue to sing . . . 
("Butterfly Over the Field of Golden Mustard Flowers") 

In the evening, you might read scripture 
and copy passages, write letters to friends, or 
do anything else you enjoy outside of your 
normal duties during the week. But whatever 
you do, do it in mindfulness. Eat only a little for 
the evening meal. Later, around 10 or 11 o'clock, 
as you sit in meditation, you will be able to sit 
more easily on an empty stomach. Afterwards 
you might take a slow walk in the fresh night 
air, following your breath in mindfulness and 
measuring the length of your breaths by your 
steps. Finally, return to your room and sleep 
in mindfulness. 


30 



Somehow we must find a way to allow each 
worker a day of mindfulness. Such a day is cru¬ 
cial. Its effect on the other days of the week is 
immeasurable. Ten years ago, thanks to such a 
day of mindfulness, Chu Van and our other 
sisters and brothers in the Tiep Hien Order 
were able to guide themselves through many 
difficult times. After only three months of ob¬ 
serving such a day of mindfulness once a week, 
I know that you will see a significant change 
in your life. The day of mindfulness will begin 
to penetrate the other days of the week, en¬ 
abling you to eventually live seven days a week 
in mindfulness. I'm sure you agree with me on 
the day of mindfulness's importance! 


31 







Four O 

The Pebble 


T Why should you meditate? First of 
all, because each of us needs to realize 
total rest. Even a night of sleep doesn't 
provide total rest. Twisting and turning, the 
facial muscles tense, all the while dreaming— 
hardly rest! Nor is lying down rest when you 
still feel restless and twist and turn. Lying on 
your back, with your arms and legs straight 
but not stiff, your head unsupported by a pil¬ 
low—this is a good position to practice breath¬ 
ing and to relax all the muscles; but this way it 
is also easier to fall asleep. You cannot go as far 
in meditation lying down as by sitting. It is 
possible to find total rest in a sitting position, 
and in turn to advance deeper in meditation in 
order to resolve the worries and troubles that 
upset and block your consciousness. 

Among our workers in Vietnam there are 
many who can sit in the lotus position, the left 
foot placed on the right thigh and the right foot 


33 



placed on the left thigh. Others can sit in the half 
lotus, the left foot placed on the right thigh, or 
the right foot placed on the left thigh. In our 
meditation class in Paris, there are people who 
do not feel comfortable in either of the above 
two positions and so I have shown them how to 
sit in the Japanese manner, the knees bent, rest¬ 
ing on their two legs. By placing a pillow beneath 
one's feet, it is possible to sit that way for more 
than an hour and a half. Even so, anyone can 
learn to sit in the half lotus, though at the begin¬ 
ning it may be somewhat painful. But after a few 
weeks of practice, the position gradually be¬ 
comes quite comfortable. During the initial 
period, when the pain can be bothersome, alter¬ 
nate the position of the legs or change to an¬ 
other sitting position. If one sits in the lotus or 
half-lotus position, it is necessary to use a cush¬ 
ion to sit on so that both knees touch the floor. 
The three points of bodily contact with the floor 
created by this position provide an extremely 
stable position. 

Keep your back straight. This is very im¬ 
portant. The neck and head should be aligned 
with the spinal column; they should be straight 
but not stiff or wood-like. Keep your eyes 
focused a yard or two in front of you. If you can, 
maintain a half smile. 

Now begin to follow your breath and to 
relax all of your muscles. Concentrate on keeping 
your spinal column straight and on following 
your breath. As for everything else, let it go. 
Let go of everything. If you want to relax the 
worry-tightened muscles in your face, let the 


34 



half smile come to your face. As the half smile 
appears, all the facial muscles begin to relax. 
The longer the half smile is maintained, the 
better. It is the same smile you see on the face 
of the Buddha. 

Place your left hand, palm side up, in your 
right palm. Let all the muscles in your hands, 
fingers, arms, and legs relax. Let go of every¬ 
thing. Be like the waterplants which flow with 
the current, while beneath the surface of the 
water the riverbed remains motionless. Hold 
on to nothing but your breath and the half smile. 

For beginners, it is better to sit no longer 
than 20 or 30 minutes. During that time, you 
can readily obtain total rest. The technique for 
obtaining this rest lies in two things—watching 
and letting go: watching your breath, and letting 
go of everything else. Release every muscle in 
your body. After about 15 minutes or so, it is 
possible to reach a deep quiet filled with inner 
peace and joy. Maintain this quiet and peace. 

Some people look on meditation as a toil and 
want the time to pass quickly in order to rest 
afterwards. Such persons do not know how to 
sit yet. If you sit correctly, it is possible to find 
total relaxation and peace right in the position 
of sitting. Often it helps to meditate on the image 
of a pebble thrown into a river. 

How is one helped by the image of the peb¬ 
ble? Sit down in whatever position suits you 
best, the half lotus or lotus, back straight, the 
half smile on your face. Breathe slowly and 
deeply, following each breath, becoming one with 
the breath. Then let go of everything. Imagine 


35 



yourself as a pebble which has been thrown into 
a river. The pebble sinks through the water 
effortlessly. Detached from everything, it falls 
by the shortest distance possible, finally reach¬ 
ing the bottom, the point of perfect rest. You 
are like a pebble which has let itself fall into the 
river, letting go of everything. At the center of 
your being is your breath. You don't need to 
know the length of time it takes before reaching 
the point of complete rest on the bed of fine sand 
beneath the water. When you feel yourself rest¬ 
ing like a pebble which has reached the riverbed, 
that is the point when you begin to find your 
own rest. You are no longer pushed or pulled 
by anything. 

If you cannot find joy in peace in these very 
moments of sitting, then the future itself will 
only flow by as a river flows by, you will not be 
able to hold it back, you will be incapable of 
living the future when it has become the pres¬ 
ent. Joy and peace are the joy and peace possi¬ 
ble in this very hour of sitting. If you cannot 
find it here, you won't find it anywhere. Don't 
chase after your thoughts as a shadow follows 
its object. Don't run after your thoughts. Find 
joy and peace in this very moment. 

w 

This is your own time. This spot where 
you sit is your own spot. It is on this very spot 
and in this very moment that you can become 
enlightened. You don't have to sit beneath a 
special tree in a distant land. Practice like this 
for a few months', and you will begin to know 
a profound and renewing delight. 


36 



The ease of sitting depends on whether you 
practice mindfulness a little or a lot each day. 
And it depends on whether or not you sit regu¬ 
larly. Whenever possible, join with friends or 
relatives and organize an hour of sitting each 
night, say from 10 to 11. Whoever wishes could 
come to sit for a half hour, or even an entire 
hour. 

Mindfulness of the mind 

Someone might well ask: is relaxation then 
the only goal of meditation? In fact the goal of 
meditation goes much deeper than that. While 
relaxation is the necessary point of departure, 
once one has realized relaxation, it is possible 
to realize a tranquil heart and clear mind. To 
realize a tranquil heart and clear mind is to have 
gone far along the path of meditation. 

Of course, to take hold of our minds and calm 
our thoughts, we must also practice mindful¬ 
ness of our feelings and perceptions. To take 
hold of your mind, you must practice mindful¬ 
ness of the mind. You must know how to ob¬ 
serve and recognize the presence of every feeling 
and thought which arises in you. The Zen 
Master Thuong Chieu wrote, "If the practitioner 
knowns his own mind clearly he will obtain 
results with little effort. But if he does not 
know anything about his own mind, all of his 
effort will be wasted." If you want to know 
your own mind, there is only one way: to observe 
and recognize everything about it. This must 
be done at all times, during your day-to-day 


37 



life no less than during the hour of meditation. 

During meditation, various feelings and 
thoughts may arise. If you don't practice mind¬ 
fulness of the breath, these thoughts will soon 
lure you away from mindfulness. But the breath 
isn't simply a means by which to chase away such 
thoughts and feelings. Breath remains the 
vehicle to unite body and mind and to open the 
gate to wisdom. When a feeling or thought 
arises, your intention should not be to chase it 
away, even if by continuing to concentrate on 
the breath the feeling or thought passes natu¬ 
rally from the mind. The intention isn't to chase 
it away, hate it, worry about it, or be fright¬ 
ened by it. So what exactly should you be doing 
concerning such thoughts and feelings? Simply 
acknowledge their presence. For example, when 
a feeling of sadness arises, immediately recog¬ 
nize it: "A feeling of sadness has just arisen in 
me." If the feeling of sadness continues, con¬ 
tinue to recognize "A feeling of sadness is still 
in me." If there is a thought like, "It's late but 
the neighbors are surely making a lot of noise," 
recognize that the thought has arisen. If the 
thought continues to exist, continue to recognize 
it. If a different feeling or thought arises, 
recognize it in the same manner. The essential 
thing is not to let any feeling or thought arise 
without recognizing it in mindfulness, like a 
palace guard who is aware of every face that 
passes through the front corridor. 

If there are no feelings or thoughts present, 
then recognize that there are no feelings or 
thoughts present. Practicing like this is to 


38 



become mindful of your feelings and thoughts. 
You will soon arrive at taking hold of your 
mind. One can join the method of mindfulness 
of the breath with the mindfulness of feelings 
and thoughts. 

The guard—or the monkey's shadow? 

While practicing mindfulness, don't be 
dominated by the distinction between good 
and evil, thus creating a battle within oneself. 

Whenever a wholesome thought arises, ac¬ 
knowledge it: "A wholesome thought has just 
arisen." And if an unwholesome thought arises, 
acknowledge it as well: "An unwholesome 
thought has just arisen." Don't dwell on it or 
try to get rid of it, however much you don't 
like it. To acknowledge it is enough. If you 
have departed, then you must know that you 
have departed, and if you are still there, know 
that you are still there. Once you have reached 
such an awareness, there will be nothing you 
need fear anymore. 

When I mentioned the guard at the em¬ 
peror's gate, perhaps you imagined a front 
corridor with two doors, one entrance and one 
exit, with your mind as the guard. Whatever 
feeling or thought enters, you are aware of its 
entrance, and when it leaves, you are aware of 
its exit. But the image has a shortcoming: it 
suggests that those who enter and exit the cor¬ 
ridor are different from the guard. In fact our 
thoughts and feelings are us. They are a part 
of ourselves. There is a temptation to look upon 


39 



them, or at least some of them, as an enemy 
force which is trying to disturb the concentra¬ 
tion and understanding of your mind. But, in 
fact, when we are angry, we ourselves are anger. 
When we are happy, we ourselves are happiness. 
When we have certain thoughts, we are those 
thoughts. We are both the guard and the visitor 
at the same time. We are both the mind and the 
observer of the mind. Therefore, chasing away 
or dwelling on any thought isn't the important 
thing. The important thing is to be aware of the 
thought. This observation is not an objectifica¬ 
tion of the mind: it does not establish distinc¬ 
tion between subject and object. Mind does not 
grab on to mind; mind does not push mind away. 
Mind can only observe itself. This observation 
isn't an observation of some object outside and 
independent of the observer. 

Remember the Koan of the Zen Master Bach 
An who asked, "What is the sound of one hand 
clapping?" Or take the example of the taste 
the tongue experiences: what separates taste and 
tastebud? The mind experiences itself directly 
within itself. This is of special importance, and 
so in the Sutra of Mindfulness, Buddha always 
uses the phrasing "mindfulness of feeling in 
feeling, mindfulness of mind in mind." Some 
have said that the Buddha used this phrasing 
in order to put emphasis on such words as 
feeling and mind, but I don't think they have 
fully grasped the Buddha's intention. Mindful¬ 
ness of feeling in feeling is mindfulness of feel¬ 
ing directly while experiencing feeling, and 
certainly not contemplation of some image of 


40 



feeling which one creates to give feeling some 
objective, separate existence of its own outside 
of oneself. Descriptive words make it sound like 
a riddle or paradox or tongue twister: mindful¬ 
ness of feeling in feeling is the mind experiencing 
mindfulness of the mind in the mind. The ob¬ 
jectivity of an outside observer to examine 
something is the method of science, but it is 
not the method of meditation. Thus the image 
of the guard and the visitor fails to illustrate 
adequately the mindful observation of mind. 

The mind is like a monkey swinging from 
branch to branch through a forest, says the 
Sutra. In order not to lose sight of the monkey 
by some sudden movement, we must watch the 
monkey constantly and even to be one with it. 
Mind contemplating mind is like an object and 
its shadow—the object cannot shake the shadow 
off. The two are one. Wherever the mind goes, 
it still lies in the harness of the mind. The Sutra 
sometimes uses the experession "Bind the mon¬ 
key" to refer to taking hold of the mind. But 
the monkey image is only a means of expression. 
Once the mind is directly and continually aware 
of itself, it is no longer like a monkey. There 
are not two minds, one which swings from 
branch to branch and another which follows 
after to bind it with a piece of rope. 

The person who practices meditation 
usually hopes to see into his or her own nature 
in order to obtain awakening. But if you are 
just beginning, don't wait to "see into your own 
nature." Better yet, don't wait for anything. 
Especially don't wait to see the Buddha or any 


41 



version of "ultimate reality" while you're sitting. 

In the first six months, try only to build up 
your power of concentration, to create an inner 
calmness and serene joy. You will shake off anx¬ 
iety, enjoy total rest, and quiet your mind. You 
will be refreshed and gain a broader, clearer 
view of things, and deepen and strengthen the 
love in yourself. And you will be able to respond 
more helpfully to all around you. 

Sitting in meditation is nourishment for 
your spirit and nourishment for your body, as 
well. Through sitting, our bodies obtain har¬ 
mony, feel lighter, and are more at peace. The 
path from the observation of your mind to seeing 
into your own nature won't be too rough. Once 
you are able to quiet your mind, once your 
feelings and thoughts no longer disturb you, 
at that point your mind will begin to dwell in 
mind. Your mind will take hold of mind in a 
direct and wondrous way which no longer dif¬ 
ferentiates between subject and object. Drinking 
a cup of tea, the seeming distinction between 
the one who drinks and the tea being drunk 
evaporates. Drinking a cup of tea becomes a 
direct and wondrous experience in which the 
distinction between subject and object no longer 
exists. 

Dispersed mind is also mind, just as 
waves rippling in water are also water. When 
mind has taken hold of mind, deluded mind 
becomes true mind. True mind is our real self, 
is the Buddha: the pure one-ness which cannot 
be cut up by the illusory divisions of separate 
selves, created by concepts and language. But 
I don't want to say a lot about this. 


42 








Five O 

One Is All, All Is One: 
The Five Aggregates 


T Let me devote a few lines here to 
talk about the methods you might 
use in order to arrive at liberation 
from narrow views, and to obtain fearlessness 
and great compassion. These are the contem¬ 
plations on interdependence, impermanency, 
and compassion. 

While you sit in meditation, after having 
taken hold of your mind, you can direct your 
concentration to contemplate on the interde¬ 
pendent nature of certain objects. This medita¬ 
tion is not a discursive reflection on a 
philosophy of interdependence. It is a penetra¬ 
tion of mind into mind itself, using one's con- 
centrative power to reveal the real nature of 
the object being contemplated. 

Recall a simple and ancient truth: the sub¬ 
ject of knowledge cannot exist independently 
from the object of knowledge. To see is to see 
something. To hear is to hear something. To be 


45 



angry is to be angry over something. Hope is 
hope for something. Thinking is thinking about 
something. When the object of knowledge (the 
something) is not present, there can be no sub¬ 
ject of knowledge. The practitioner meditates 
on mind and, by so doing, is able to see the inter¬ 
dependence of the subject of knowledge and 
the object of knowledge. When we practice 
mindfulness of breath, then the knowledge of 
breath is mind. When we practice mindfulness 
of the body, then the knowledge of body is 
mind. When we practice mindfulness of objects 
outside ourselves, then the knowledge of these 
objects is also mind. Therefore the contempla¬ 
tion of the nature of interdependence of all 
objects is also the contemplation of the mind. 

Every object of the mind is itself mind. In 
Buddhism, we call the objects of mind the 
dharmas. Dharmas are usually grouped into 
five categories: 

1. bodily and physical forms 

2. feelings 

3. perceptions 

4. mental functionings 

5. consciousness 

These five categories are called the five aggregates. 
The fifth category, consciousness, however, 
contains all the other categories and is the basis 
of their existence. 

Contemplation on interdependence is a deep 
looking into all dharmas in order to pierce 
through to their real nature, in order to see 


46 



them as part of the great body of reality and in 
order to see that the great body of reality is 
indivisible. It cannot be cut into pieces with 
separate existences of their own. 

The first object of contemplation is our 
own person, the assembly of the five aggregates 
in ourselves. You contemplate right here and 
now on the five aggregates which make up 
yourself. 

You are conscious of the presence of bodily 
form, feeling, perception, mental functionings, 
and consciousness. You observe these "objects" 
until you see that each of them has intimate 
connection with the world outside yourself: if 
the world did not exist then the assembly of 
the five aggregates could not exist either. 

Consider the example of a table. The table's 
existence is possible due to the existence of 
things which we might call "the non-table 
world": the forest where the wood grew and 
was cut, the carpenter, the iron ore which be¬ 
came the nails and screws, and countless other 
things which have relation to the table, the 
parents and ancestors of the carpenter, the sun 
and rain which made it possible for the trees 
to grow. 

If you grasp the table's reality then you see 
that in the table itself are present all those 
things whch we normally think of as the non¬ 
table world. If you took away any of those non¬ 
table elements and returned them to their 
sources—the nails back to the iron ore, the wood 
to the forest, the carpenter to his parents—the 
table would no longer exist. 


47 



A person who looks at the table and can 
see the universe is a person who can see the way. 
You meditate on the assembly of the five aggre¬ 
gates in yourself in the same manner. You medi¬ 
tate on them until you are able to see the 
presence of the reality of one-ness in your own 
self, and can see that your own life and the life 
of the universe are one. If the five aggregates 
return to their sources, the self no longer 
exists. Each second, the world nourishes the 
five aggregates. The self is no different from 
the assembly of the five aggregates themselves. 
The assembly of the five aggregates plays, as 
well, a crucial role in the formation, creation, 
and destruction of all things in the universe. 

Liberation from suffering 

People normally cut reality into compart¬ 
ments, and so are unable to see the interdepen¬ 
dence of all phenomena. To see one in all and all 
in one is to break through the great barrier 
which narrows one's perception of reality, a 
barrier which Buddhism calls the attachment 
to the false view of self. 

Attachment to the false view of self means 
belief in the presence of unchanging entities 
which exist on their own. To break through 
this false view is to be liberated from every 
sort of fear, pain, and anxiety. When the Bod- 
hisattva Quan the Am, who has been such a 
source of inspiration of peace workers in Viet¬ 
nam, saw into the reality of the five aggregates 
giving rise to emptiness of Self, she was liber- 


48 



ated from every suffering, pain, doubt, and 
anger. The same would apply to everyone. If 
we contemplate the five aggregates in a stub¬ 
born and diligent way, we, too, will be liberated 
from suffering, fear, and dread. 

We have to strip away all the barriers in 
order to live as part of the universal life. A 
person isn't some private entity traveling unaf¬ 
fected through time and space as if sealed off 
from the rest of the world by a thick shell. 
Living for 100 or for 100,000 lives sealed off 
like that not only isn't living, but it isn't pos¬ 
sible. In our lives are present a multitude of 
phenomena, just as we ourselves are present in 
many different phenomena. We are life, and 
life is limitless. Perhaps one can say that we 
are only alive when we live the life of the world, 
and so live the sufferings and joys of others. 
The suffering of others is our own suffering, 
and the happiness of others is our own happi¬ 
ness. If our lives have no limits, the assembly 
of the five aggregates which makes up our self 
also has no limits. The impermanent character 
of the universe, the successes and failures of 
life can no longer manipulate us. Having seen 
the reality of interdependence and entered 
deeply into its reality, nothing can oppress you 
any longer. You are liberated. Sit in the lotus 
position, observe your breath, and ask one who 
has died for others. 

Meditation on interdependence is to be 
practiced constantly, not only while sitting, but 
as an integral part of our involvement in all 
ordinary tasks. We must learn to see that the 


49 



person in front of us is ourself and that we are 
that person. We must be able to see the process 
of inter-origination and interdependence of all 
events, both those which are happening and 
those which will happen. 

A ride on the waves of birth and death 

I cannot leave out the problem of life and 
death. Many young people and others have 
come out to serve others and to labor for peace, 
through their love for all who are suffering. 
They are always mindful of the fact that the 
most important question is the question of life 
and death, but often not realizing that life and 
death are but two faces of one reality. Once 
we realize that we will have the courage to 
encounter both of them. 

When I was only 19 years old, I was as¬ 
signed by an older monk to meditate on the 
image of a corpse in the cemetery. But I found 
it very hard to take and resisted the meditation. 
Now I no longer feel that way. Then I thought 
that such a meditation should be reserved for 
older monks. But since then, I have seen many 
young soldiers lying motionless beside one 
another, some only 13,14, and 15 years old. They 
had no preparation or readiness for death. Now 
I see that if one doesn't know how to die, one 
can hardly know how to live—because death 
is a part of life. Just two days ago Mobi told 
me that she thought at 20 one was old enough 
to meditate on the corpse. She has only turned 
21 herself. 


50 



We must look death in the face, recognize 
and accept it, just as we look at and accept life. 

The Buddhist Sutra on Mindfulness speaks 
about the meditation on the corpse: meditate 
on the decomposition of the body, how the body 
bloats and turns violet, how it is eaten by worms 
until only bits of blood and flesh still cling to 
the bones, meditate up to the point where only 
white bones remain, which in turn are slowly 
worn away and turn into dust. Meditate like 
that, knowing that your own body will undergo 
the same process. Meditate on the corpse until 
you are calm and at peace, until your mind and 
heart are light and tranquil and a smile appears 
on your face. Thus, by overcoming revulsion 
and fear, life will be seen as infinitely precious, 
every second of it worth living. And it is not just 
our own lives that are recognized as precious, 
but the lives of every other person, every other 
person, every other being, every other reality. 
We can no longer be deluded by the notion that 
the destruction of others' lives is necessary for 
our own survival. We see that life and death 
are but two faces of Life and that without both, 
Life is not possible, just as two sides of a coin 
are needed for the coin to exist. Only now is it 
possible to rise above birth and death, and to 
know how to live and how to die. The Sutra says 
that the Bodhisattvas who have seen into the 
reality of interdependence have broken through 
all narrow views, and have been able to enter 
birth and death as a person takes a ride in a 
small boat without being submerged or 
drowned by the waves of birth and death. 


51 



Some people have said that if you look at 
reality with the eyes of a Buddhist, you become 
pessimistic. But to think in terms of either pes¬ 
simism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. 
The problem is to see reality as it is. A pessi¬ 
mistic attitude can never create the calm and 
serene smile which blossoms on the lips of the 
Bodhisattvas and all others who obtain the Way. 


52 














Six ** 

The Almond Tree 
in Your Front Yard 


T l've spoken about the contemplation 
on interdependence. Of course all the 
methods in the search for truth should 
be looked on as means rather than as ends in 
themselves or as absolute truth. The meditation 
on interdependence is intended to remove the 
false barriers of discrimination so that one can 
enter into the universal harmony of life. It is 
not intended to produce a philosophical system, 
a philosophy of interdependence. Herman Hesse, 
in his novel Siddartha, did not yet see this and 
so his Siddhartha speaks about the philosophy 
of interdependence in words which strike us as 
somewhat naive. The author offers us a picture 
of interdependence in which everything is 
interrelated, a system in which no fault can 
be found: everything must fit into the foolproof 
system of mutual dependence, a system in which 
one cannot consider the problem of liberation 
in this world. 


55 



According to an insight of our tradition, 
reality has three natures: imagination, inter¬ 
dependence, and the nature of ultimate per¬ 
fection. One first considers interdependence. 
Because of forgetfulness and prejudices, we 
generally cloak reality with a veil of false views 
and opinions. This is seeing reality through 
imagination. Imagination is an illusion of reality 
which conceives of reality as an assembly of 
small pieces of separate entities and selves. In 
order to break through, the practitioner medi¬ 
tates on the nature of interdependence or the 
interrelatedness of phenomena in the processes 
of creation and destruction. The consideration 
is a way of contemplation, not the basis of a 
philosophic doctrine. If one clings merely to 
a system of concepts, one only becomes stuck. 
The meditation on interdependence is to help 
one penetrate reality in order to be one with 
it, not to become caught up in philosophical 
opinion or meditation methods. The raft is 
used to cross the river. It isn't to be carried 
around on your shoulders. The finger which 
points at the moon isn't the moon itself. 

Finally one proceeds to the nature of ulti¬ 
mate perfection—reality freed from all false 
views produced by the imagination. Reality is 
reality. It transcends every concept. There is 
no concept which can adequately describe it, 
not even the concept of interdependence. To 
assure that one doesn't become attached to a 
philosophical concept, our teaching speaks of 
the three now-natures to prevent the individual 
from becoming caught up in the doctrine of 


56 



the three natures. The essence of Mahayana 
Buddhist teaching lies in this. 

When reality is perceived in its nature of 
ultimate perfection, the practitioner has 
reached a level of wisdom called non-discrimin¬ 
ation mind—a wondrous communion in which 
there is no longer any distinction made between 
subject and object. This isn't some far-off, un¬ 
attainable state. Any one of us—by persisting 
in practicing even a little—can at least taste of it. 
I have a pile of orphan applications for sponsor¬ 
ship on my desk.* I translate a few each day. 
Before I begin to translate a sheet, I look into 
the eyes of the child in the photograph, and 
look at the child's expression and features 
closely. I feel a deep link between myself and 
each child, which allows me to enter a special 
communion with them. While writing this to 
you, 1 see that during those moments and hours, 
the communion I have experienced while trans¬ 
lating the simple lines in the applications has 
been a kind of non-discrimination mind. I no 
longer see an "I" who translates the sheets to 
help each child, I no longer see a child who 
received love and help. The child and I are one: 
no one pities; no one asks for help; no one helps. 
There is no task, no social work to be done, no 
compassion, no special wisdom. These are 
moments of non-discrimination mind. 

*The Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation has carried 
on a program of raising financial support for families within 
Vietnam who took in orphans. In the United States the sponsor 
contributed $6 a month for the family of the orphan he or she 
was helping. 


57 



When reality is experienced in its nature 
of ultimate perfection, an almond tree that 
may be in your front yard reveals its nature in 
perfect wholeness. The almond tree is itself 
truth, reality, your own self. Of all the people 
who have passed by your yard, how many have 
really seen the almond tree? The heart of an 
artist may be more sensitive; hopefully he or 
she will be able to see the tree in a deeper way 
than many others. Because of a more open 
heart, a certain communion already exists 
between the artist and the tree. What counts is 
your own heart. If your heart is not clouded 
by false views, you will be able to enter into a 
natural communion with the tree. The almond 
tree will be ready to reveal itself to you in 
complete wholeness. To see the almond tree 
is to see the way. One Zen Master, when asked 
to explain the wonder of reality, pointed to a 
cypress tree and said, 'Took at the cypress tree 
over there/' 

The voice of the rising tide 

When your mind is liberated your heart 
floods with compassion: compassion for your¬ 
self, for having undergone countless sufferings 
because you were not yet able to relieve your¬ 
self of false views, hatred, ignorance, and anger; 
and compassion for others because they do not 
yet see and so are still imprisoned by false views, 
hatred, and ignorance and continue to create 
suffering for themselves and for others. Now 
you look at yourself and at others with the eyes 


58 



of compassion, like a saint who hears the cry of 
every creature in the universe and whose voice 
is the voice of every person who has seen reality 
in perfect wholeness. As a Buddhist Sutra hears 
the voice of the Bodhisattva of compassion: 

The wondrous voice, the voice of the one 
who attends to the cries of the world 

The noble voice, the voice of the rising 
tide surpassing all the sounds of the 
world 

Let our mind be attuned to that voice. 

Put aside all doubt and meditate on the 
pure and holy nature of the regarder 
of the cries of the world 

Because that is our reliance in situations 
of pain, distress, calamity, death. 

Perfect in all merits, beholding all sentient 
beings with compassionate eyes, mak¬ 
ing the ocean of blessings limitless. 

Before this one, we should incline. 

Practice looking at all beings with the eyes 
of compassion: this is the meditation called 
"the meditation on compassion." 

The meditation on compassion must be 
realized during the hours you sit and during 
every moment you carry out service for others. 
No matter where you go or where you sit, re¬ 
member the sacred call: "Look at all beings 
with the eyes of compassion." 

There are many subjects and methods for 


59 



meditation, so many that I could never hope 
to write them all down for our friends. I've 
only mentioned a few, simple but basic methods 
here. A peace worker is like any one else. She 
or he must live her own life. Work is only a 
part of life. But work is life only when done 
in mindfulness. Otherwise, one becomes like 
the person "who lives as though dead." We 
need to light our own torch in order to carry 
on. But the life of each one of us is connected 
with the life of those around us. If we know 
how to live in mindfulness, if we know how to 
preserve and care for our own mind and heart, 
then thanks to that, our brothers and sisters 
will also know how to live in mindfulness. 

Meditation reveals and heals 

Sitting in mindfulness, both our bodies and 
minds can be at peace and totally relaxed. But 
this state of peace and relaxation differs fun- 
damentally from the lazy, semi-conscious state 
of mind that one gets while resting and dozing. 
Sitting in such lazy semi-consciousness, far from 
being mindfulness, is like sitting in a dark cave. 
In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, 
but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; 
it is a serene encounter with reality. The person 
who practices mindfulness should be no less 
awake than the driver of a car; if the practi¬ 
tioner isn't awake he will be possessed by dis¬ 
persion and forgetfulness, just as the drowsy 
driver is likely to cause a grave accident. Be as 
awake as a person walking on high stilts—any 


60 



mis-step could cause the walker to fall. Be like 
a medieval knight walking weaponless in a 
forest of swords. Be like a lion, going forward 
with slow, gentle, and firm steps. Only with 
this kind of vigilance can you realize total 
awakening. 

For beginners, I recommend the method 
of pure recognition: recognition without judg¬ 
ment. Feelings, whether of compassion or irri¬ 
tation, should be welcomed, recognized, and 
treated on an absolutely equal basis; because 
both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating 
is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. 
I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this 
teapot with the kind of attention I would have 
were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. 
Nothing should be treated more carefully than 
anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, 
irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are 
all sacred. 

When possessed by a sadness, an anxiety, 
a hatred, or a passion or whatever, the method 
of pure observation and recognition may seem 
difficult to practice. If so, turn to meditation 
on a fixed object, using your own state of mind 
as meditation's subject. Such meditation re¬ 
veals and heals. The sadness or anxiety, hatred 
or passion, under the gaze of concentration 
and meditation reveals its own nature—a revela¬ 
tion that leads naturally to healing and emanci¬ 
pation. The sadness (or whatever has caused the 
pain) can be used as a means of liberation from 
torment and suffering, like using a thorn to 
remove a thorn. We should treat our anxiety. 


61 



our pain, our hatred and passion gently, respect¬ 
fully, not resisting it, but living with it, making 
peace with it, penetrating into its nature by 
meditation on interdependence. One quickly 
learns how to select subjects of meditation that 
fit the situation. Subjects of meditation—like 
interdependence, compassion, self, emptiness, 
non-attachment—all these belong to the cate¬ 
gories of meditation which have the power to 
reveal and to heal. 

Meditation on these subjects, however, 
can only be successful if we have built up a 
certain power of concentration, a power 
achieved by the practice of mindfulness in 
everyday life, in the observation and recogni¬ 
tion of all that is going on. But the objects of 
meditation must be realities that have real 
roots in yourselves—not just subjects of philo¬ 
sophical speculation. Each should be like a kind 
of food that must be cooked for a long time 
over a hot fire. We put it in a pot, cover it, and 
light the fire. The pot is ourselves and the heat 
used to cook is the power of concentration. 
The fuel comes from the continuous practice 
of mindfulness. Without enough heat the food 
will never be cooked. But once cooked, the 
food reveals its true nature and helps lead us 
to liberation. 

The water clearer, the grass greener 

The Buddha once said that the problem 
of life and death is itself the problem of mind¬ 
fulness. Whether or not one is alive depends 


62 



on whether one is mindful. In the Samyutta 
Nikaya Sutra, the Buddha tells a story which 
took place in a small village: 

A famous dancer had just come to the vil¬ 
lage and the people were swarming the streets 
to catch a glimpse of her. At that same moment, 
a condemned criminal was obliged to cross the 
village carrying a bowl of oil filled tp the very 
brim. He had to concentrate with all his might 
on keeping the bowl steady, for even if one drop 
of oil were to spill from the bowl to the ground, 
the soldier directly behind him had orders to 
take out his sword and cut off the man's head. 
Having reached this point in the story, Gau¬ 
tama Buddha asked: "Now, do you think our 
prisoner was able to keep all his attention 
so focused on the bowl of oil that his mind did 
not stray to steal a glimpse of the famous 
dancer in town, or to look up at the throngs of 
villagers making such a commotion in the 
streets, any of whom could bump into him at 
any moment?" 

Another time the Buddha recounted a 
story which made me suddenly see the supreme 
importance of practicing mindfulness of one's 
own self—that is, to protect and care for one's 
self, not being preoccupied about the way 
others look after themselves, a habit of mind 
which gives rise to resentment and anxiety. 
The Buddha said, "There once were a couple 
of acrobats. The teacher was a poor widower 
and the student was a small girl named Meda. 
The two of them performed in the streets to 
earn enough to eat. They used a tall bamboo 


63 




pole which the teacher balanced on the top 
of his head while the little girl slowly climbed 
to the top. There she remained while the 
teacher continued to walk along the ground. 

"Both of them had to devote all their atten¬ 
tion to maintain perfect balance and to prevent 
any accident from occurring. One day the 
teacher instructed the pupil: 'Listen, Meda, I 
will watch you and you watch me, so that we 
can help each other maintain concentration 
and balance and prevent an accident. Then we'll 
be sure to earn enough to eat.' But the little 
girl was wise and answered, 'Dear master, I 
think it would be better for each of us to watch 
ourself. To look after oneself means to look 
after both of us. That way I am sure we will 
avoid any accidents and will earn enough to 
eat.'" The Buddha said: "The child spoke 
correctly." 

In a family, if there is one person who prac¬ 
tices mindfulness, the entire family will be more 
mindful. Because of the presence of one member 
who lives in mindfulness, the entire family is 
reminded to live in mindfulness. If in one class, 
one student lives in mindfulness, the entire class 
is influenced. 

In peace-serving communities, we must fol¬ 
low the same principle. Don't worry if those 
around you aren't doing their best. Just worry 
about how to make yourself worthy. Doing 
your best is the surest way to remind those 
around you to do their best. But to be worthy 


64 



requires the continuing practice of mindfulness. 
That is a certainty. Only by practicing mind¬ 
fulness will we not lose ourselves but acquire 
a bright joy and peace. Only by practicing 
mindfulness will we be able to look at every¬ 
one else with the open mind and eyes of love. 

I was just invited downstairs for a cup of 
tea, into an apartment where a friend who helps 
us has a piano. As Kirsten—who is from Holland 
—poured tea for me, I looked at her pile of 
work and said, "Why don't you stop translating 
orphan applications for a minute and play the 
piano for me?" Kirsten was glad to put down 
her work for a moment and sat down at the 
piano to play a selection of Chopin she has 
known since she was a child. The piece has 
several measures which are soft and melodic 
but others which are loud and quick. Her dog 
was lying beneath the tea table, and when the 
music became excited, it began to bark and 
whine. L knew that it felt uneasy and wanted 
the music to stop. Kirsten's dog is treated with 
the kindness one gives to a small child, and per¬ 
haps is more sensitive to music than most chil¬ 
dren. Or perhaps it responded this way because 
its ears pick up certain vibrations that human 
ears do not. Kirsten continued to play while 
trying to console the dog at the same time, but 
to no avail. She finished and began to play 
another piece by Mozart which was light and 
harmonious. Now the dog lay. quietly and 
appeared to be at peace. When Kirsten had 
finished she came over and sat down beside me 
and said, "Often when I play a piece of Chopin 


65 




that is the least bit loud, the dog comes and 
grabs hold of my pantsleg, trying to force me 
to leave the piano. Sometimes I have to put her 
outside before I can continued playing. But 
whenever I play Bach or Mozart, she is peaceful/' 

Kirsten mentioned a report that in Canada 
people tried playing Mozart for their plants 
during the night. The plants grew more quickly 
than normal, and the flowers inclined toward 
the direction of the music. Others played 
Mozart every day in wheat and rye fields and 
were able to measure that the wheat and rye 
in these fields grew more quickly than the 
wheat and rye in other fields. 

As Kirsten spoke, I thought about con¬ 
ference rooms where people argue and debate, 
where angry and reproachful words are hurled 
back and forth. If one placed flowers and plants 
in such rooms, chances are they would cease 
to grow. 

I thought about the garden tended by a 
monk living in mindfulness. His flowers are 
always fresh and green, nourished by the 
peace and joy which flow from his mindful¬ 
ness. One of the ancients said. 

When a great Master is born, the water in the 

rivers turns clearer and the plants grow greener . 

We ought to listen to music or sit and prac¬ 
tice breathing at the beginning of every meeting 
or discussion. 


66 







Seven 

Three Wondrous 
Answers 


T To end, let me retell a short story of 
Tolstoy's, the story of the Emperor's 
three questions. Tolstoy did not know 
the emperor's name . . . 

One day it occurred to a certain emperor 
that if he only knew the answers to three ques¬ 
tions, he would never stray in any matter. 

What is the best time to do each thing? 

Who are the most important people to work with? 

What is the most important thing to do at all times? 

The emperor issued a decree throughout 
his kingdom announcing that whoever could 
answer the questions would receive a great 
reward. Many who read the decree made their 
way to the palace at once, each person with a 
different answer. 

In reply to the first question, one person 


69 



advised that the emperor make up a thorough 
time schedule, consecrating every hour, day, 
month, and year for certain tasks and then follow 
the schedule to the letter. Only then could he 
hope to do every task at the right time. 

Another person replied that it was impos¬ 
sible to plan in advance and that the emperor 
should put all vain amusements aside and re¬ 
main attentive to everything in order to know 
what to do at what time. 

Someone else insisted that, by himself, 
the emperor could never hope to have all the 
foresight and competence necessary to decide 
when to do each and every task and what he 
really needed was to set up a Council of the 
Wise and then to act according to their advice. 

Someone else said that certain matters 
required immediate decision and could not 
wait for consultation, but if he wanted to know 
in advance what was going to happen he should 
consult magicians and soothsayers. 

The responses to the second question also 
lacked accord. 

One person said that the emperor needed 
to place all his trust in administrators, another 
urged reliance on priests and monks, while 
others recommended physicians. Still others 
put their faith in warriors. 

The third question drew a similar variety 
of answers. 

Some said science was the most important 
pursuit. Others insisted on religion. Yet others 
claimed the most important thing was military 
skill. 


70 



The emperor was not pleased with any of 
the answers, and no reward was given. 

After several nights of reflection, the em¬ 
peror resolved to visit a hermit who lived up 
on the mountain and was said to be an enlight¬ 
ened man. The emperor wished to find the 
hermit to ask him the three questions, though 
he knew the hermit never left the mountains 
and was known to receive only the poor, refus¬ 
ing to have anything to do with persons of 
wealth or power. So the emperor disguised 
himself as a simple peasant and ordered his 
attendants to wait for him at the foot of the 
mountain while he climbed the slope alone 
to seek the hermit. 

Reaching the holy man's dwelling place, 
the emperor found the hermit digging a 
garden in front of his hut. When the hermit 
saw the stranger, he nodded his head in greet¬ 
ing and continued to dig. The labor was ob¬ 
viously hard on him. He was an old man, and 
each time he thrust his spade into the ground 
to turn the earth, he heaved heavily. 

The emperor approached him and said, 
"I have come here to ask your help with three 
questions: When is the best time to do each 
thing? Who are the most important people 
to work with? What is the most important 
thing to do at all times?" 

The hermit listened attentively but only 
patted the emperor on the shoulder and con¬ 
tinued digging. The emperor said, "You must 
be tired. Here, let me give you a hand with 
that." The hermit thanked him, handed the 


71 



emperor the spade, and then sat down on the 
ground to rest. 

After he had dug two rows, the emperor 
stopped and turned to the hermit and repeated 
his three questions. The hermit still did not 
answer, but instead stood up and pointed to 
the spade and said, "Why don't you rest now? I 
can take over again." But the emperor continued 
to dig. One hour passed, then two. Finally the 
sun began to set behind the mountain. The 
emperor put down the spade and said to the 
hermit, "I came here to ask if you could answer 
my three questions. But if you can't give me any 
answer, please let me know so that I can get on 
my way home." 

The hermit lifted his head and asked the 
emperor, "Do you hear someone running over 
there?" The emperor turned his head. They 
both saw a man with a long white beard emerge 
from the woods. He ran wildly, pressing his 
hands against a bloody wound in his stomach. 
The man ran toward the emperor before falling 
unconscious to the ground, where he lay groan¬ 
ing. Opening the man's clothing, the emperor 
and hermit saw that the man had received a 
deep gash. The emperor cleaned the wound 
thoroughly and then used his own shirt to band¬ 
age it, but the blood completely soaked it 
within minutes. He rinsed the shirt out and 
bandaged the wound a second time and con¬ 
tinued to do so until the flow of blood had 
stopped. 

At last the wounded man regained con¬ 
sciousness and asked for a drink of water. The 


72 



emperor ran down to the stream and brought 
back a jug of fresh water. Meanwhile, the sun 
had disappeared and the night air had begun 
to turn cold. The hermit gave the emperor a 
hand in carrying the man into the hut where they 
laid him down on the hermit's bed. The man 
closed his eyes and lay quietly. The emperor 
was worn out from a long day of climbing the 
mountain and digging the garden. Leaning 
against the doorway, he fell asleep. When he 
rose, the sun had already risen over the moun¬ 
tain. For a moment he forgot where he was 
and what he had come here for. He looked over 
to the bed and saw the wounded man also look¬ 
ing around him in confusion. When he saw 
the emperor, he stared at him intently and then 
said in a faint whisper, "Please forgive me." 

"But what have you done that I should 
forgive you?" the emperor asked. 

"You do not know me, your majesty, but 
I know you. I was your sworn enemy, and I had 
vowed to take vengeance on you, for during 
the last war you killed my brother and seized 
my property. When 1 learned that you were 
coming alone to the mountain to meet the her¬ 
mit, I resolved to surprise you on your way 
back and kill you. But after waiting a long time 
there was still no sign of you, and so I left my 
ambush in order to seek you out. But instead of 
finding you, I came across your attendants, who 
recognized me, giving me this wound. Luckily, 
I escaped and ran here. If I hadn't met you I 
would surely be dead by now. I had intended 
to kill you, but instead you saved my life! I 


73 



am ashamed and grateful beyond words. If I 
live, I vow to be your servant for the rest of my 
life, and I will bid my children and grandchil¬ 
dren to do the same. Please grant me your 
forgiveness/ 7 

The emperor was overjoyed to see that he 
was so easily reconciled with a former enemy. 
He not only forgave the man but promised to 
return all the man's property and to send his 
own physician and servants to wait on the man 
until he was completely healed. After ordering 
his attendants to take the man home, the em¬ 
peror returned to see the hermit. Before re¬ 
turning to the palace the emperor wanted to 
repeat his three questions one last time. He 
found the hermit sowing seeds in the earth 
they had dug the day before. 

The hermit stood up and looked at the 
emperor. 7/ But your questions have already 
been answered. 77 

"How's that?" the emperor asked, puzzled. 

"Yesterday, if you had not taken pity on 
my age and given me a hand with digging these 
beds, you would have been attacked by that 
man on your way home. Then you would have 
deeply regretted not staying with me. Therefore 
the most important time was the time you were 
digging in the beds, the most important person 
was myself, and the most important pursuit 
was to help me. Later, when the wounded man 
ran up here, the most important time was the 
time you spent dressing his wound, for if you 
had not cared for him he would have died and 
you would have lost the chance to be reconciled 
with him. Likewise, he was the most important 


74 



person, and the most important pursuit was 
taking care of his wound. Remember that there 
is only one important time and that is now. The 
present moment is the only time over which 
we have dominion. The most important person 
is always the person you are with, who is right 
before you, for who knows if you will have 
dealings with any other person in the future? 
The most important pursuit is making the 
person standing at your side happy, for that 
alone is the pursuit of life/' 

Tolstoy's story is like a story out of scrip¬ 
ture: it doesn't fall short of any sacred text. We 
talk about social service, service to the people, 
service to humanity, service for others who 
are far away, helping to bring peace to the 
world—but often we forget that it is the very 
people around us that we must live for first 
of all. If you cannot serve your wife or husband 
or child or parent—how are you going to serve 
society? If you cannot make your own child 
happy, how do you expect to be able to make 
anyone else happy? If all our friends in the 
peace movement or of service communities of 
any kind do not love and help one another, 
whom can we love and help? Are we working 
for other humans, or are we just working for 
the name of an organization? 

Service 

The service of peace. The service of any 
person in need. The word service is so immense. 
Let's return first to a more modest scale: our 


75 




families, our classmates, our friends, our own 
community. We must live for them—for if we 
cannot live for them, whom else do we think we 
are living for? 

Tolstoy is a saint—what we Buddhists 
would call a Bodhisattva. But was the emperor 
himself able to see the meaning and direction 
of life? How can we live in the present moment, 
live right now with the people around us, help¬ 
ing to lessen their suffering and making their 
lives happier? How? The answer is this: We 
must practice mindfulness. The principle that 
Tolstoy gives appears easy. But if we want to 
put it into practice we must use the methods 
of mindfulness in order to seek and find the way. 

I've written these pages for our friends to 
use. There are many people who have written 
about these things without having lived them, 
but I've only written down those things which 
I have lived and experienced myself. I hope you 
and your friends will find these things at least 
a little helpful along the path of our seeking: 
the path of our return. 


76 








** Exercises in Mindfulness 


Here are a number of exercises and approaches in medi¬ 
tation which 1 often have used, adapting them from var¬ 
ious methods to fit my own circumstances and preferences. 
Select the ones you like best and find the most suitable 
for your own self. The value of each method will vary 
according to each person's unique needs. Although these 
exercises are relatively easy, they form the foundations 
on which everything else is built. 

Half-smile when you first wake up in 
the morning 

Hang a branch, any other sign, or even the 
word "smile" on the ceiling or wall so that you 
see it right away when you open your eyes. This 
sign will serve as your reminder. Use these 
seconds before you get out of bed to take hold 
of your breath. Inhale and exhale three breaths 
gently while maintaining the half smile. Fol¬ 
low your breaths. 


79 



Half-smile during your free moments 

Anywhere you find yourself sitting or standing, 
half-smile. Look at a child, a leaf, a painting on 
the wall, anything which is relatively still, and 
smile. Inhale and exhale quietly three times. 
Maintain the half smile and consider the spot 
of your attention as your own true nature. 

Half-smile while listening to music 

Listen to a piece of music for two or three 
minutes. Pay attention to the words, music, 
rhythm, and sentiments. Smile while watching 
your inhalations and exhalations. 

Half-smile when irritated 

When you realize you're irritated, half-smile 
at once. Inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining 
the half smile for three breaths. 

Letting go in a lying-down position 

Lie on your back on a flat surface without the 
support of mattress or pillow. Keep your two 
arms loosely by your sides and your two legs 
slightly apart, stretched out before you. Main¬ 
tain a half smile. Breathe in and out gently, keep¬ 
ing your attention focused on your breath. Let 
go of every muscle in your body. Relax each 
muscle as though it were sinking down through 
the floor or as though it were as soft and yield¬ 
ing as a piece of silk hanging in the breeze to dry. 
Let go entirely, keeping your attention only on 


80 



your breath and half smile. Think of yourself 
as a cat, completely relaxed before a warm fire, 
whose muscles yield without resistance to 
anyone's touch. Continue for 15 breaths. 

Lettinggo in the sitting position 

Sit in the half or full lotus, or cross-legged, or 
your two legs folded beneath you, or even on a 
chair, your two feet touching the floor. Half¬ 
smile. Inhale and exhale while maintaining the 
half smile. Let go. 

Deep breathing 

Lie on your back. Breathe evenly and gently, 
focusing your attention on the movement of 
your stomach. As you begin to breathe in, allow 
your stomach to rise in order to bring air into the 
lower half of your lungs. As the upper halves of 
your lungs begin to fill with air, your chest begins 
to rise and your stomach begins to lower. Don't 
tire yourself. Continue for 10 breaths. The exha¬ 
lation will be longer than the inhalation. 

Measuring your breath by your footsteps 

Walk slowly and leisurely in a garden, along a 
river, or on a village path. Breathe normally. 
Determine the length of your breath, the 
exhalation and the inhalation, by the number 
of your footsteps. Continue for a few minutes. 
Begin to lengthen your exhalation by one step. 
Do not force a longer inhalation. Let it be 
natural. Watch your inhalation carefully to see 


81 



if there is a desire to lengthen it. Continue for 
10 breaths. 

Now lengthen the exhalation by one more 
footstep. Watch to see whether the inhalation 
also lengthens by one step or not. Only lengthen 
the inhalation when you feel that it will give 
delight. After 20 breaths, return your breath 
to normal. About five minutes later, you can 
begin the practice of lengthened breaths again. 
When you feel the least bit tired, return to 
normal. After several sessions of the practice 
of lengthened breath, your exhalation and in¬ 
halation will grow equal in length. Do not prac¬ 
tice long, equal breaths for mote than 10 to 
20 breaths before returning to normal. 

Counting your breath 

Sit in the half or full lotus or take a walk. As 
you inhale, be mindful that "I am inhaling, one." 
When you exhale, be mindful that "I am exhal¬ 
ing, one." Remember to breathe from the stom¬ 
ach. When beginning the second inhalation, be 
mindful that "I am inhaling, two." And slowly 
exhaling, be mindful that "I am exhaling, two." 
Continue on up through 10. After you have 
reached 10, return to one. Whenever you lose 
count, return to one. 

Following your breath while listening to music 

Listen to a piece of music. Breathe long, light, 
and even breaths. Follow your breath, be master 
of it while remaining aware of the movement 


82 



and sentiments of the music. Do not get lost 
in the music, but continue to be master of your 
breath and your self. 

Following your breath while carrying on a conversation 

Breathe long, light, and even breaths. Follow 
your breath while listening to a friend's words 
and to your own replies. Continue as with the 
music. 

Following the breath 

Sit in a full or half lotus or go for a walk. Begin 
to inhale gently and normally (from the stom¬ 
ach), mindful that "I am inhaling normally." Ex¬ 
hale in mindfulness, "I am exhaling normally." 
Continue for three breaths. On the fourth 
breath, extend the inhalation, mindful that 
"I am breathing in a long inhalation." Exhale 
in mindfulness, "I am breathing out a long 
exhalation." Continue for three breaths. 

Now follow your breath carefully, aware 
of every movement of your stomach and lungs. 
Follow the entrance and exit of air. Be mind¬ 
ful that "I am inhaling and following the inhala¬ 
tion from its beginning to its end. I am exhaling 
and following the exhalation from its beginning 
to its end." 

Continue for 20 breaths. Return to normal. 
After 5 minutes, repeat the exercise. Remember 
to maintain the half smile while breathing. 
Once you have mastered this exercise, move 
on to the next. 


83 



Breathing to quiet the mind and body to realize joy 

Sit in the full or half lotus. Half-smile. Follow 
your breath. When your mind and body are 
quiet, continue to inhale and exhale very 
lightly, mindful that, "I am breathing in and 
making the breath-body light and peaceful. 
I am exhaling and making the breath-body 
light and peaceful." Continue for three breaths, 
giving rise to the thought in mindfulness, "I 
am breathing in and making my entire body 
light and peaceful and joyous." Continue for 
three breaths and in mindfulness give rise to 
the thought, "I am breathing in while my body 
and mind are peace and joy. I am breathing out 
while my body and mind are peace and joy." 

Maintain this thought in mindfulness from 
5 to 30 minutes, or for an hour, according to 
your ability and to the time available to you. 
The beginning and end of the practice should 
be relaxed and gentle. When you want to stop, 
gently massage your eyes and face with your 
two hands and then massage the muscles in your 
legs before returning to a normal sitting posi¬ 
tion. Wait a moment before standing up. 

Mindfulness of the positions of the body 

This can be practiced in any time and place. 
Begin to focus your attention on your breath. 
Breathe quietly and more deeply than usual. 
Be mindful of the position of your body, 
whether you are walking, standing, lying, or 
sitting down. Know where you walk; where you 
stand; where you lie; where you sit. Be mind- 


84 



ful of the purpose of your position. For exam* 
pie, you might be conscious that you are stand¬ 
ing on a green hillside in order to refresh 
yourself, to practice breathing, or just to stand. 
If there is no purpose, be mindful that there is 
no purpose. 

Mindfulness while making tea 

Prepare a pot of tea to serve a guest or to drink 
by yourself. Do each movement slowly, in mind¬ 
fulness. Do not let one detail of your movements 
go by without being mindful of it. Know that 
your hand lifts the pot by its handle. Know that 
you are pouring the fragrant warm tea into the 
cup. Follow each step in mindfulness. Breathe 
gently and more deeply than usual. Take hold 
of your breath if your mind strays. 

Washing the dishes 

Wash the dishes relaxingly, as though each 
bowl is an object of contemplation. Consider 
each bowl as sacred. Follow your breath to 
prevent your mind from straying. Do not try 
to hurry to get the job over with. Consider 
washing the dishes the most important thing 
in life. Washing the dishes is meditation. If you 
cannot wash the dishes in mindfulness, neither 
can you meditate while sitting in silence. 

Washing clothes 

Do not wash too many clothes at one time. Select 
only three or four articles of clothing. Find the 


85 



most comfortable position to sit or stand so as 
to prevent a backache. Scrub the clothes re- 
laxingly. Hold your attention on every move¬ 
ment of your hands and arms. Pay attention 
to the soap and water. When you have finished 
scrubbing and rinsing, your mind and body 
should feel as clean and fresh as your clothes. 
Remember to maintain the half smile and take 
hold of your breath whenever your mind 
wanders. 

Cleaning house 

Divide your work into stages: straightening 
things and putting away books, scrubbing 
the toilet, scrubbing the bathroom, sweeping 
the floors and dusting. Allow a good length of 
time for each task. Move slowly, three times 
more slowly than usual. Fully focus your atten¬ 
tion on each task. For example, while placing 
a book on the shelf, look at the book, be aware 
of what book it is, know that you are in the 
process of placing it on the shelf, intending to 
put it in that specific place. Know that your 
hand reaches for the book, and picks it up. 
Avoid any abrupt or harsh movement. Main¬ 
tain mindfulness of the breath, especially when 
your thoughts wander. 

A slow-motion hath 

Allow yourself 30 to 45 minutes to take a bath. 
Don't hurry for even one second. From the 
moment you prepare the bathwater to the 
moment you put on clean clothes, let every 


86 



motion be light and slow. Be attentive of every 
movement. Place your attention to every part 
of your body, without discrimination or fear. 
Be mindful of each stream of water on your 
body. By the time you've finished, your mind 
should feel as peaceful and light as your body. 
Follow your breath. Think of yourself as being 
in a clean and fragrant lotus pond in the summer. 

The pebble 

While sitting still and breathing slowly, think 
of yourself as a pebble which is falling through 
a clear stream. While sinking, there is no inten¬ 
tion to guide your movement. Sink toward the 
spot of total rest on the gentle sand of the river¬ 
bed. Continue meditating on the pebble until 
your mind and body are at complete rest: a 
pebble resting on the sand. Maintain this peace 
and joy a half hour while watching your breath. 
No thought about the past or future can pull 
you away from your present peace and joy. The 
universe exists in this present moment. No desire 
can pull you away from this present peace, not 
even the desire to become a Buddha or the 
desire to save all beings. Know that to become a 
Buddha and to save all beings can only be real¬ 
ized on the foundation of the pure peace of the 
present moment. 

A day of mindfulness 

Set aside one day of the week, any day that 
accords with your own situation. Forget the 
work you do during the other days. Do not 


87 



organize any meetings or have friends over. 
Do only such simple work as house cleaning, 
cooking, washing clothes, and dusting. 

Once the house is neat and clean, and all 
your things are in order, take a slow-motion 
bath. Afterwards, prepare and drink tea. You 
might read scripture or write letters to close 
friends. Afterwards, take a walk to practice 
breathing. While reading scripture or writing 
letters, maintain your mindfulness, don't let 
the text or letter pull you away to somewhere 
else. While reading the sacred text, know what 
you are reading; while writing the letter, know 
what you are writing. Follow the same proce¬ 
dure as listening to music or conversing with a 
friend. In the evening prepare yourself a light 
meal, perhaps only a little fruit or a glass of 
fruit juice. Sit in meditation for an hour before 
you go to bed. During the day, take two walks 
of a half hour to 45 minutes. Instead of reading 
before you go to bed, practice total relaxation 
for 5 to 10 minutes. Be master of your breath¬ 
ing. Breathe gently (the breath should not be 
too long), following the rising, the lowering of 
your stomach and chest, your eyes closed. Every 
movement during this day should be at least 
two times slower than usual. 

Contemplation on interdependence 

Find a photo of yourself as a child. Sit in the 
full or half lotus. Begin to follow your breath. 
After 20 breaths, begin to focus your attention 
on the photo in front of you. Recreate and live 


88 



again the five aggregates of which you were 
made up at the time the photo was taken: the 
physical characteristics of your body, your 
feelings, perceptions, mind functionings, and 
consciousness at that age. Continue to follow 
your breath. Do not let your memories lure you 
away or overcome you. Maintain this meditation 
for 15 minutes. Maintain the half smile. Turn 
your mindfulness to your present self. Be con¬ 
scious of your body, feelings, perceptions, mind 
functionings, and consciousness in the present 
moment. See the five aggregates which make 
up yourself. Ask the question, "Who am I?" 
The question should be deeply rooted in you, 
like a new seed nestled deep in the soft earth and 
damp with water. The question "Who am I?" 
should not be an abstract question to consider 
with your discursive intellect. The question 
"Who am I?" will not be confined to your intel¬ 
lect, but to the care of the whole of the five 
aggregates. Don't try to seek an intellectual 
answer. Contemplate for 10 minutes, maintain¬ 
ing light but deep breath to prevent being 
pulled away by philosophical reflection. 

Y ourself 

Sit in a dark room by yourself, or alone by a 
river at night, or anywhere else where there 
is solitude. Begin to take hold of your breath. 
Give rise to the thought, "I will use my finger 
to point at myself," and then instead of pointing 
at your body, point away in the opposite direc¬ 
tion. Contemplate seeing yourself outside of 


89 


your bodily form. Contemplate seeing your 
bodily form present before you—in the trees, 
the grass and leaves, the river. Be mindful 
that you are in the universe and the universe 
is in you: if the universe is, you are; if you are, 
the universe is. There is no birth. There is no 
death. There is no coming. There is no going. 
Maintain the half smile. Take hold of your 
breath. Contemplate for 10 to 20 minutes. 

Your skeleton 

Lie on a bed, or on a mat or on the grass in a 
position in which you are comfortable. Don't 
use a pillow. Begin to take hold of your breath. 
Imagine all that is left of your body is a white 
skeleton lying on the face of the earth. Main¬ 
tain the half smile and continue to follow your 
breath. Imagine that all your flesh has decom¬ 
posed and is gone, that your skeleton is now 
lying in the earth 80 years after burial. See 
clearly the bones of your head, back, your ribs, 
your hip bones, leg and arm bones, finger 
bones. Maintain the half smile, breathe very 
lightly, your heart and mind serene. See that 
your skeleton is not you. Your bodily form is 
not you. Be at one with life. Live eternally in 
the trees and grass, in other people, in the birds 
and other beasts, in the sky, in the ocean waves. 
Your skeleton is only one part of you. You are 
present everywhere and in every moment. You 
are not only a bodily form, or even feelings, 
thoughts, actions, and knowledge. Continue 
for 20 to 30 minutes. 


90 



Your true visage before you were born 

In the full or half lotus follow your breath. 
Concentrate on the point of your life's begin¬ 
ning—A. Know that it is also the point of begin¬ 
ning of your death. See that both your life and 
death are manifested at the same time: this is 
because that is, this could not have been if 
that were not. See that the existence of your 
life and death depend on each other: one is the 
foundation of the other. See that you are at 
the same time your life and your death; that the 
two are not enemies but two aspects of the same 
reality. Then concentrate on the point of ending 
of the twofold manifestation—B—which is 
wrongly called death. See that it is the ending 
point of the manifestation of both your life 
and your death. 

See that there is no difference before A and 
after B. Search for your true face in the periods 
before A and after B. 

A loved one who has died 

On a chair or bed, sit or lie in a position you feel 
comfortable in. Begin to take hold of your 
breath. Contemplate the body of a loved one 
who has died, whether a few months or several 
years ago. Know clearly that all the flesh of the 
person has decomposed and only a skeleton 
remains lying quietly beneath the earth. Know 
clearly that your own flesh is still here and in 
yourself are still converged the five aggregates 


91 



of bodily form, feeling, perception, mental 
functionings, and consciousness. Think of your 
interaction with that person in the past and right 
now. Maintain the half smile and take hold of 
your breath. Contemplate this way for 15 
minutes. 

Emptiness 

Sit in the full or half lotus. Begin to regulate 
your breath. Contemplate the nature of empti¬ 
ness in the assembly of the five aggregates: 
bodily form, feeling, perception, mind func¬ 
tionings, and consciousness. Pass from con¬ 
sidering one aggregate to another. See that all 
transform, are impermanent and without self. 
The assembly of the five aggregates is like the 
assembly of all phenomena: all obey the law of 
interdependence. Their coming together and 
disbanding from one another resembles the 
gathering and vanishing of clouds around the 
peaks of mountains. Neither cling to nor reject 
the five aggregates. Know that like and dislike 
are phenomena which belong to the assemblage 
of the five aggregates. See clearly that the five 
aggregates are without self and are empty, but 
that they are also wondrous, wondrous as is 
each phenomenon in the universe, wondrous as 
the life which is present everywhere. Try to see 
that the five aggregates do not really undergo 
creation and destruction for they themselves 
are ultimate reality. Try to see by this contem¬ 
plation that impermanence is a concept, non¬ 
self is a concept, emptiness is a concept, so that 


92 



you will not become imprisoned in the concepts 
of impermanence, non-self, and emptiness. You 
will see that emptiness is also empty, and that 
the ultimate reality of emptiness is no different 
from the ultimate reality of the five aggre¬ 
gates. ( This exercise should be practiced only after 
the student has thoroughly practiced the pre¬ 
vious five exercises. The amount of time will be 
according to the individual—perhaps one hour, 
perhaps two.) 

Compassion for the person you hate or despise the most 

Sit quietly. Breathe and smile the half smile. 
Contemplate the image of the person who has 
caused you the most suffering. Regard the 
features you hate or despise the most or find 
the most repulsive. Try to examine what makes 
this person happy and what causes suffering 
in his daily life. Contemplate the person's per¬ 
ceptions; try to see what patterns of thought 
and reason this person follows. Examine what 
motivates this person's hopes and actions. Finally 
consider the person's consciousness. See whether 
his views and insights are open and free or not, 
and whether or not he has been influenced by 
any prejudices, narrow-mindedness, hatred, 
or anger. See whether or not he is master of 
himself. Continue until you feel compassion 
rise in your heart like a well filling with fresh 
water and your anger and resentment disappear. 
Practice this exercise many times on the same 
person. 


93 



Suffering caused by the lack of wisdom 

Sit in the full or half lotus. Begin to follow your 
breath. Choose the situation of a person, fam¬ 
ily, or society which is suffering the most of 
any you know. This will be the object of your 
contemplation. 

In the case of a person , try to see every suffer¬ 
ing which that person is undergoing. Begin 
with the suffering of bodily form (sickness, 
poverty, physical pain) and then proceed to the 
suffering caused by feelings (internal conflicts, 
fear, hatred, jealousy, a tortured conscience). 
Consider next the suffering caused by percep¬ 
tions (pessimism, dwelling on his problems 
with a dark and narrow viewpoint). See whether 
his mind functionings are motivated by fear, 
discouragement, despair, or hatred. See whether 
or not his consciousness is shut off because of 
his situation, because of his suffering, because 
of the people around him, his education, propa¬ 
ganda, or a lack of control of his own self. Medi¬ 
tate on all these sufferings until your heart 
fills with compassion like a well of fresh water, 
and you are able to see that the person suffers 
because of circumstances and ignorance. Re¬ 
solve to help that person get out of his present 
situation through the most silent and unpre¬ 
tentious means possible. 

In the case of a family, follow the same method. 
Go through all the sufferings of one person and 
then on to the next person until you have ex¬ 
amined the sufferings of the entire family. See 
that their sufferings are your own. See that it 


94 



is not possible to reproach even one person in 
that group. See that you must help them liber¬ 
ate themselves from their present situation by 
the most silent and unpretentious means pos¬ 
sible. 

In the case of a society, take the situation of a 
country suffering war or any other situation of 
injustice. Try to see that every person involved 
in the conflict is a victim. See that no person, 
including all those in warring parties or in what 
appear to be opposing sides, desires the suf¬ 
fering to continue. See that it is not only one or 
a few persons who are to blame for the situa¬ 
tion. See that the situation is possible because 
of the clinging to ideologies and to an unjust 
world economic system which is upheld by 
every person through ignorance or through 
lack of resolve to change it. See that two sides in 
a conflict are not really opposing, but two 
aspects of the same reality. See that the most 
essential thing is life and that killing or oppress¬ 
ing one another will not solve anything. Re¬ 
member the Sutra's words: 

In the time of war 

Raise in yourself the Mind of Compassion 

Help living beings 

Abandon the will to fight 

Wherever there is furious battle 

Use all your might 

To keep both sides' strength equal 

And then step into the conflict to reconcile 

Vimalakirti Nirdesa 


95 



Meditate until every reproach and hatred 
disappears, and compassion and love rise like 
a well of fresh water within you. Vow to work 
for awareness and reconciliation by the most 
silent and unpretentious means possible. 

Detached action 

Sit in the full or half lotus. Follow your breath. 
Take a project in rural development or any 
other project which you consider important, 
as the subject of your contemplation. Examine 
the purpose of the work, the methods to be 
used, and the people involved. Consider first 
the purpose of the project. See that the work 
is to serve, to alleviate suffering, to respond 
to compassion, not to satisfy the desire for 
praise or recognition. See that the methods used 
encourage cooperation between humans. Don't 
consider the project as an act of charity. Con¬ 
sider the people involved. Do you still see in 
terms of ones who serve and ones who benefit? 
If you can still see who are the ones serving and 
who are the ones benefiting, your work is for 
the sake of yourself and the workers, and not 
for the sake of service. The Prajnaparamita 
Sutra says, "The Bodhisattva helps row living 
beings to the other shore but in fact no living 
beings are being helped to the other shore." 
Determine to work in the spirit of detached 
action: 


96 



Detachment 


Sit in the full or half lotus. Follow your breath. 
Recall the most significant achievements in 
your life and examine each of them. Examine 
your talent, your virtue, your capacity, the 
convergence of favorable conditions that have 
led to success. Examine the complacency and 
the arrogance that have arisen from the feeling 
that you are the main cause for such success. 
Shed the light of interdependence on the whole 
matter to see that the achievement is not really 
yours but the convergence of various conditions 
beyond your reach. See to it that you will not 
be bound to these achievements. Only when 
you can relinquish them can you really be free 
and no longer assailed by them. 

Recall the bitterest failures in your life 
and examine each of them. Examine your talent, 
your virtue, your capacity, and the absence of 
favorable conditions that led to the failures. 
Examine to see all the complexes that haye 
arisen within you from the feeling that you are 
not capable of realizing success. Shed the light 
of interdependence on the whole matter to see 
that failures cannot be accounted for by your 
inabilities but rather by the lack of favorable 
conditions. See that you have no strength to 
shoulder these failures, that these failures 
are not your own self. See to it that you are free 
from them. Only when you can relinquish them 
can you really be free and no longer assailed 
by them. 


97 



Contemplation on non-abandonment 


Sit in the full or half lotus. Follow your breath. 
Apply one of the exercises on interdependence: 
yourself, your skeleton, or one who has died. 
See that everything is impermanent and without 
eternal identity. See that although things are 
impermanent and without lasting identity, they 
are nonetheless wondrous. While you are not 
bound by the conditioned, neither are you bound 
by the non-conditioned. See that the saint, 
though he is not caught by the teaching of 
interdependence, neither does he get away 
from the teaching. Although he can abandon 
the teaching as if it were cold ashes, still he 
can dwell in it and not be drowned. He is like 
a boat upon the water. Contemplate to see that 
awakened people, while not being enslaved 
by the work of serving living beings, never 
abandon their work of serving living beings. 


98 





•&.>* * j* 





Nhat Hanh: 

Seeing with 

the Eyes of Compassion 


by James Forest 

T in 1968, I was traveling with Thich 
Nhat Hanh on a Fellowship [of Re¬ 
conciliation] tour during which there 
were meetings with church and student groups, 
senators, journalists, professors, business people, 
and (blessed relief) a few poets. Almost every¬ 
where he went, this brown-robed Buddhist monk 
from Vietnam (looking many years younger 
than the man in his forties he was) quickly 
disarmed those he met. 

His gentleness, intelligence, and sanity 
made it impossible for most who encountered 
him to hang on to their stereotypes of what 
the Vietnamese were like. The vast treasury 
of the Vietnamese and Buddhist past spilled 
over through his stories and explanations. His 
interest in Christianity, even his enthusiasm 
for it, often inspired Christians to shed their 
condescension toward Nhat Hanh's tradition. 
He was able to help thousands of Americans 


101 


glimpse the war through the eyes of peasants 
laboring in rice paddies and raising their chil¬ 
dren and grandchildren in villages surrounded 
by ancient groves of bamboo. He awoke the 
child within the adult as he described the craft 
of the village kite-maker and the sound of the 
wind instruments these fragile vessels would 
carry toward the clouds. 

After an hour with him, one was haunted 
with the beauties of Vietnam, and filled with 
anguish at America's military intervention 
in the political and cultural tribulations of the 
Vietnamese people. One was stripped of all the 
ideological loyalties that justified one party 
or another in their battles, and felt the horror 
of the skies raked with bombers, houses and 
humans burned to ash, children left to face life 
without the presence and love of their parents 
and grandparents. 

But there was one evening when Nhat Hanh 
awoke not understanding but rather the mea¬ 
sureless rage of one American. He had been 
talking in the auditorium of a wealthy Chris¬ 
tian church in a St. Louis suburb. As always, 
he emphasized the need for Americans to stop 
their bombing and killing in his country. There 
had been questions and answers when a large 
man stood up and spoke with searing scorn of 
the "supposed compassion" of "this Mr. Hanh." 

"If you care so much about your people, 
Mr. Hanh, why are you here? If you care so 
much for the people who are wounded, why 
don't you spend your time with them?" At this 


102 



point my recollection of his words is replaced 
by the memory of the intense anger which 
overwhelmed me. 

When he finished, I looked toward Nhat 
Hanh in bewilderment. What could he—or 
anyone—say? The spirit of the war itself had 
suddenly filled the room, and it seemed hard 
to breathe. 

There was a silence. Then Nhat Hanh began 
to speak—quietly, with deep calm, indeed with 
a sense of personal caring for the man who had 
just damned him. The words seemed like rain 
falling on fire. "If you want the tree to grow," 
he said, "it won't help to water the leaves. You 
have to water the roots. Many of the roots of the 
war are here, in your country. To help the peo¬ 
ple who are to be bombed, to try to protect 
them from this suffering, I have to come here." 

The atmosphere in the room was trans¬ 
formed. In the man's fury we had experienced 
our own furies; we had seen the world as 
through a bomb bay. In Nhat Hanh's response 
we had experienced an alternate possibility: the 
possibility (here brought to Christians by a 
Buddhist and to Americans by an "enemy") of 
overcoming hatred with love, of breaking the 
seemingly endless chain reaction of violence 
throughout human history. 

But after his response, Nhat Hanh whis¬ 
pered something to the chairman and walked 
quickly from the room. Sensing something was 
wrong, I followed him out. It was a cool, clear 
night. Nhat Hanh stood on the sidewalk beside 


103 



the church parking lot. He was struggling for 
air—like someone who had been deeply under¬ 
water and who had barely managed to swim 
to the surface before gasping for breath. It was 
several minutes before I dared ask him how he 
was or what had happened. 

Nhat Hanh explained that the man's com¬ 
ments had been terribly upsetting. He had 
wanted to respond to him with anger. So he 
had made himself breathe deeply and very 
slowly in order to find a way to respond with 
calm and understanding. But the breathing had 
been too slow and too deep. 

"Why not be angry with him/' I asked. 
"Even pacifists have a right to be angry." 

"If it were just myself, yes. But I am here 
to speak for Vietnamese peasants. I have to 
show them what we can be at our best." 

The moment was an important one in my 
life, one pondered again and again since then. 
For one thing, it was the first time that I real¬ 
ized there was a connection between the way 
one breathes and the way one responds to the 
world around. 

Until very recently, Nhat Hanh has made 
no attempt to teach Western people any of the 
skills of meditation—what he often calls mind¬ 
fulness. Only during the past year, first with 
a few Western friends helping the Vietnamese 
Buddhist Peace Delegation in Paris, later with 
a group at that city's Quaker International 
Center, has he begun to teach meditation. Now 
he has written a small book on the subject. The 
Miracle of Mindfulness, a manual on meditation. 


104 



Nhat Hanh is a poet, Zen Master, and a co- 
chairman of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. 
In Vietnam, he played a major role in the crea¬ 
tion of "engaged Buddhism"—a profound 
religious renewal rooted in compassion and 
service out of which emerged countless proj¬ 
ects which combined help to the war's victims 
with nonviolent opposition to the war itself. 
For their work, thousands of Buddhists— 
nuns, monks, and lay people—were shot or 
imprisoned. 

His work in Vietnam gave birth to the 
School of Youth for Social Service, Van Hanh 
University, a small monastery that was an early 
base of the nonviolent movement, a pacifist 
underground press (led by his co-worker Cao 
Ngoc Phuong), and the La Boi Press, one of the 
principal vehicles of cultural and religious 
renewal. 

His poetry provides the words of many 
of the most popular songs in contemporary 
Vietnam, songs of hope surviving grief. 

Even in exile, representing overseas the 
Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, he has 
continued to be a force for nonviolence and 
reconciliation in his homeland and an organizer 
of supportive responses from other countries. 
(His friendship with Martin Luther King was a 
factor in Dr. King's decision to ignore the advice 
of many colleagues and contributors who op¬ 
posed his "mixing issues" and to join in the 
opposition to the Vietnam war. Shortly before 
his assassination. Dr. King nominated Nhat Hanh 
for the Nobel Prize for Peace.) 


105 



Only a few of his books have been published 
outside of Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, The Cry 
of Vietnam, The Path of Return Continues the Journey, 
Zen Keys, and The Raft Is Not the Shore. 

During conversations with Nhat Hanh and 
his co-workers in Paris, in the apartment of the 
Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation, our 
thoughts turned to the absence of a meditative 
dimension in much of the American peace move¬ 
ment. Its absence helped explain why so much 
of the "peace" movement (perhaps better called 
the American-withdrawal movement) had ex¬ 
hibited such slight and superficial interest in 
the Buddhists' nonviolent campaign against 
the war. The weaponless Buddhists were not 
judged truly "political," merely a religious 
movement: admirable, unusually courageous 
when compared to other religious groups, but 
peripheral. 

What American peace activists might learn 
from their Vietnamese counterparts is that, 
until there is a more meditative dimension in 
the peace movement, our perceptions of reality 
(and thus our ability to help occasion under¬ 
standing and transformation) will be terribly 
crippled. Whatever our religious or nonreligious 
background and vocabulary may be, we will 
be overlooking something as essential to our 
lives and work as breath itself. 

Breath itself . Breathing. It comes to many as 
astonishing news that something as simple as 
attention to breathing has a central part to play 
in meditation and prayer. It is like a mystery 
novelist's idea of hiding the diamonds in the 


106 



goldfish bowl: too obvious to notice. But since 
the news has made its way past my own barriers 
of skepticism, there has been no end of con¬ 
firmations—principally, the confirmation of 
experience. 

The problem with meditation is that the 
contexts for it are too close at hand. The chances, 
as Nhat Hanh points out, are scattered every¬ 
where: in the bathtub, in the kitchen sink, on a 
cutting board, a sidewalk or path, on a tene¬ 
ment staircase, on a picket line, at a typewriter 
. . . literally anywhere. The moments and 
places of silence and stillness are wondrous and 
helpful, but not indispensable. The meditative 
life doesn't require a secluded, greenhouse 
existence. (It does need occasional periods of 
time, even a whole day of the week, when spe¬ 
cial attention can be given to becoming more 
mindful. But then Christians and Jews ought 
not to be newcomers to the Sabbath.) 

To the skeptic, Nhat Hanh's suggestions 
will seem quite absurd, a bad joke at the end 
of history, the latest card trick dealt out of 
the ancient deck of mystical doubletalk. But 
the pacifist affirmation itself strikes many as 
no smaller an absurdity: choosing to nurture 
life and to live without weapons in a murderous 
world. The way of meditation only carries that 
personal disarmament we have already begun 
an essential step deeper—nonviolence not only 
in the face of governments and corporations 
and liberation armies but a nonviolent en¬ 
counter with reality itself. 

This is the way to understand a simple truth 


107 



Nhat Hanh has mentioned elsewhere: "Those 
who are without compassion cannot see what 
is seen with the eyes of compassion." That more 
inclusive sight makes the small but crucial dif¬ 
ference between despair and hope. 


108 



Selection of 
Buddhist Sutras 




# The Foundation of Mindfulness 

(Satipatthana Sutta) 

Translated from the Pali by Nydnasatta 


Thus have I heard. At one time the Blessed One was 
living among the Kurus, at Kammasadamma—a mar¬ 
ket town of the Kuru people. There the Blessed One 
addressed the bhikkhus thus: "Monks," and they re¬ 
plied to him, "Venerable Sir." The Blessed One spoke 
as follows: 

This is the only way, monks, for the purification 
of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamen¬ 
tation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for 
reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nirvana, 
namely the four Foundations of Mindfulness. What are 
the four? 

Herein (in this teaching) a monk lives contem¬ 
plating the body in the body, ardent, clearly compre¬ 
hending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, 
covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating feelings 
in feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending and mind¬ 
ful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and 
grief; he lives contemplating consciousness in con- 


111 



sciousness, ardent, clearly comprehending and mind¬ 
ful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and 
grief; he lives contemplating mental objects in mental 
objects, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, 
having overcome, in this world, covetousness and 
grief. 


I. The Contemplation of the Body 

1 . Mindfulness of Breathing 

And how does a monk live contemplating the body 
in the body? 

Herein, monks, a monk having gone to the forest, 
to the foot of a tree or to an empty place, sits down, 
with his legs crossed, keeps his body erect and his 
mindfulness alert. 

Ever mindful he breathes in, and mindful he 
breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows "I 
am breathing in a long breath”; breathing out a long 
breath, he knows "I am breathing out a long breath”; 
breathing in a short breath, he knows ”1 am breathing 
in a short breath”; breathing out a short breath, he 
knows ”1 am breathing out a short breath.” 

"Experiencing the whole (breath-) body, I shall 
breathe in,” thus he trains himself. "Experiencing the 
whole (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he 
trains himself. "Calming the activity of the (breath-) 
body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. "Calm¬ 
ing the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe 
out,” thus he trains himself. 

Just as a skillful turner or turner's apprentice, mak¬ 
ing a long turn, knows "I am making a long turn,” or 
making a short turn, knows, "I am making a short 


112 



turn/' just so the monk, breathing in a long breath, 
knows "I am breathing in a long breath"; breathing 
out a long breath, knows "I am breathing out a long 
breath"; breathing in a short breath, knows "I am 
breathing in a short breath"; breathing out a short 
breath, knows "I am breathing out a short breath." 
"Experiencing the whole (breath-) body, I shall breathe 
in," thus he trains himself. "Experiencing the whole 
(breath-) body, I shall breathe out," thus he trains him¬ 
self. "Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall 
breathe in," thus he trains himself. "Calming the ac¬ 
tivity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe out," thus 
he trains himself. 

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body 
internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the 
body, internally and externally. He lives contemplating 
origination-factors in the body, or he lives contem¬ 
plating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. 
Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: 
"The body exists," to the extent necessary just for 
knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, 
and clings to naught in the world. Thus also, monks, 
a monk lives contemplating the body in the body. 


2. The Postures of the Body 

And further, monks, a monk knows when he is 
going "I am going"; he knows when he is standing "I 
am standing"; he knows when he is sitting "I am sit¬ 
ting"; he knows when he is lying down "I am lying 
down"; or just as his body is disposed so he knows it. 

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body 
internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the 
body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in 


113 



the body internally and externally. He lives contem¬ 
plating origination-factors in the body, or he lives con¬ 
templating origination-and-dissolution factors in the 
body. Or his mindfulness is established with the 
thought: "The body exists/' to the extent necessary 
just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives de¬ 
tached, and clings to naught in the world. Thus also, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the 
body. 

3. Mindfulness with Clear Comprehension 

And further, monks, a monk, in going forward 
and back, applies clear comprehension; in looking 
away, he applies clear comprehension; in bending and 
in stretching, he applies clear comprehension; in wear¬ 
ing robes and carrying the bowl, he applies clear com¬ 
prehension; in eating, drinking, chewing, and 
savoring, he applies clear comprehension; in attending 
to the calls of nature, he applies clear comprehension; 
in walking, standing, in sitting, in falling asleep, in 
waking, in speaking and in keeping silence, he applies 
clear comprehension. 

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the 
body . . . 

4. The Reflection on the Repulsiveness of the Body 

And further, monks, a monk reflects on this very 
body enveloped by the skin and full of manifold im¬ 
purity, from the soles up, and from the top of the head- 
hair down, thinking thus: "There are in this body hair 
of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, 
sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, midriff, 


114 



spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, gorge, feces, bile, 
phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, 
nasal mucus, synovial fluid, urine/' 

Just as if there were a double-mouthed provision 
bag full of various kinds of grain such as hill paddy, 
paddy, green gram, cow-peas, sesame, and husked 
rice, and a man with sound eyes, having opened that 
bag, were to take stock of the contents thus: This is hill 
paddy, this is paddy, this is green gram, this is cow- 
pea, this is sesame, this is husked rice. Just so, monks, 
a monk reflects on this very body enveloped by the 
skin and full of manifold impurity, from the soles up, 
and from the top of the head-hair down, thinking thus: 
"There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the 
body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, 
kidneys, heart, liver, midriff, spleen, lungs, intestines, 
mesentery, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, 
sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, synovial 
fluid, urine." 

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the 
body . . . 

5. The Reflection on the Material Elements 

And further, monks, a monk reflects on this very 
body, however it be placed or disposed, by way of the 
material elements: "There are in this body the element 
of earth, the element of water, the element of fire, the 
element of wind." 

Just as if, monks, a clever cow-butcher or his ap¬ 
prentice, having slaughtered a cow and divided it into 
portions, should be sitting at the junction of four high 
roads, in the same way, a monk reflects on this very 
body, as it is placed or disposed, by way of the material 


115 


elements: “There are in this body the elements of earth, 
water, fire, and wind." 

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the 
body . . . 

6. The Nine Cemetery Contemplations 

And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body dead 
one, two, or three days; swollen, blue, and festering, 
thrown in the charnel ground, he then applies this 
perception to his own body thus: “Verily, also my own 
body is of the same nature; such it will become and 
will not escape it/' 

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body 
internally, or lives contemplating the body in the body 
externally, or lives contemplating the body in the body 
internally and externally. He lives contemplating orig¬ 
ination-factors in the body, or he lives contemplating 
dissolution-factors in the body, or he lives contem¬ 
plating origination-and-dissolution-factors in the body. 
Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: 
“The body exists," to the extent necessary just for 
knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives independ¬ 
ent, and clings to naught in the world. Thus also, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the 
body. 

2. And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body 
thrown in the charnel ground, being eaten by crows, 
hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals, or by different kinds of 
worms, he then applies this perception to his own body 
thus: “Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; 
such it will become and will not escape it." 

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the 
body . . . 


116 



3. And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body 
thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to a skeleton 
with some flesh and blood attached to it, held together 
by the tendons . . . 

4. And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body 
thrown in the charnel ground, and reduced to a skel¬ 
eton, blood-besmeared and without flesh, held to¬ 
gether by the tendons . . . 

5. And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body 
thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to a skeleton 
without flesh and blood, held together by the ten¬ 
dons . . . 

6. And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body 
thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to discon¬ 
nected bones, scattered in all directions—here a bone 
of the hand, there a bone of the foot, a shin bone, a 
thigh bone, the pelvis, spine and skull . . . 

7. And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body 
thrown in the charnel ground, reduced to bleached 
bones of conch-like color . . . 

8. And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body 
thrown in the charnel ground, reduced to bones, more 
than a year old, lying in a heap . . . 

9. And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body 
thrown in the charnel ground, reduced to bones, gone 
rotten and become dust, he then applies this perception 
to his own body thus: “Verily, also my own body is 
of the same nature; such it will become and will not es¬ 
cape it." 

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body 
internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the 
body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in 
the body internally and externally. He lives contem¬ 
plating origination-factors in the body, or he lives con- 


117 



templating dissolution-factors in the body, or he lives 
contemplating origination-and-dissolution-factors in 
the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the 
thought: 'The body exists," to the extent necessary 
just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives de¬ 
tached, and clings to naught in the world. Thus also, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the 
body. 


II. The Contemplation of Feeling 

And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating 
feelings in feelings? 

Herein, monks, a monk when experiencing a 
pleasant feeling knows, "I experience a pleasant feel¬ 
ing"; when experiencing a painful feeling, he knows, 
"I experience a painful feeling"; when experiencing a 
neither pleasant nor painful feeling, he knows, "I ex¬ 
perience a neither pleasant nor painful feeling"; when 
experiencing a pleasant worldly feeling, he knows, "I 
experience a pleasant worldly feeling"; when experi¬ 
encing a pleasant spiritual feeling, he knows, "I ex¬ 
perience a pleasant spiritual feeling"; when 
experiencing a painful worldly feeling, he knows, "I 
experience a painful worldly feeling"; when experi¬ 
encing a painful spiritual feeling, he knows, "I expe¬ 
rience a painful spiritual feeling"; when experiencing 
a neither pleasant nor painful worldly feeling, he 
knows, "I experience a neither pleasant nor painful 
worldly feeling"; when experiencing a neither pleasant 
nor painful spiritual feeling, he knows, "I experience 
a neither pleasant nor painful spiritual feeling." 


118 



Thus he lives contemplating feelings in feelings 
internally, or he lives contemplating feelings in feelings 
externally, or he lives contemplating feelings in feelings 
internally and externally. He lives contemplating orig¬ 
ination-factors in feelings, or he lives contemplating 
dissolution-factors in feelings, or he lives contemplat¬ 
ing origination-and-dissolution factors in feelings. Or 
his mindfulness is established with the thought, "Feel¬ 
ing exists," to the extent necessary just for knowledge 
and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to 
naught in the world. Thus, monks, a monk lives con¬ 
templating feelings in feelings. 


III. The Contemplation of Consciousness 

And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating 
consciousness in consciousness? 

Herein, monks, a monk knows the consciousness 
with lust, as with lust; the consciousness without lust, 
as without lust; the consciousness with hate, as with 
hate; the consciousness without hate, as without hate; 
the consciousness with ignorance, as with ignorance; 
the consciousness without ignorance, as without ig¬ 
norance; the shrunken state of consciousness as the 
shrunken state; the distracted state of consciousness as 
the distracted state; the developed state of conscious¬ 
ness as the developed state; the undeveloped state of 
consciousness as the undeveloped state; the state of 
consciousness with some other mental state superior 
to it, as the state with something mentally higher; the 
state of consciousness with no other mental state su¬ 
perior to it, as the state with nothing mentally higher; 


119 


the concentrated state of consciousness as the concen¬ 
trated state; the unconcentrated state of consciousness 
as the unconcentrated state; the freed state of con¬ 
sciousness as the freed state; and the unfreed state of 
unconsciousness as the unfreed. 

Thus he lives contemplating consciousness in con¬ 
sciousness internally or he lives contemplating con¬ 
sciousness in consciousness externally, or he lives 
contemplating consciousness in consciousness inter¬ 
nally and externally. He lives contemplating origina¬ 
tion-factors in consciousness, or he lives contemplating 
dissolution-factors in consciousness, or he lives con¬ 
templating origination-and-dissolution-factors in con- 
ousness. Or his mindfulness is established with the 
thought, "Consciousness exists/' to the extent neces¬ 
sary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives 
detached and clings to naught in the world. Thus, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating consciousness in 
consciousness. 


IV. The Contemplation of Mental Objects 

1. The Five Hindrances 

And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating 
mental objects in mental objects? 

Herein, monks, a monk lives contemplating men¬ 
tal objects in the mental objects of the five hindrances. 

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating 
mental objects in the mental objects of the five 
hindrances? 

Herein, monks, a monk, when sense-desire is 
present, knows, "There is sense-desire in me," or 


120 



when sense-desire is not present, he knows, "There is 
no sense desire in me." He knows how the arising of 
the nonarisen sense-desire comes to be; he knows how 
the abandoning of the arisen sense-desire comes to be; 
and he knows how the nonarising in the future of the 
abandoned sense-desire comes to be. 

When anger is present, he knows, "There is anger 
in me," or when anger is not present, he knows, 
"There is no anger in me." He knows how the arising 
of the nonarisen anger comes to be; he knows how the 
abandoning of the arisen anger comes to be; and he 
knows how the nonarising in the future of the aban¬ 
doned anger comes to be. 

When sloth and torpor are present, he knows, 
"There are sloth and torpor in me," and when sloth 
and torpor are not present, he knows, "There are no 
sloth and torpor in me." He knows how the arising of 
the nonarisen sloth and torpor comes to be; he knows 
how the abandoning of the arisen sloth and torpor 
comes to be; and he knows how the nonarising in the 
future of the abandoned sloth and torpor comes to be. 

When agitation and scruples are present, he 
knows, "There are agitation and scruples in me," or 
when agitation and scruples are not present, he knows, 
"There are no agitation and scruples in me." He knows 
how the arising of the nonarisen agitation and scruples 
comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the 
arisen agitation and scruples comes to be; and he 
knows how the nonarising in the future of the aban¬ 
doned agitation and scruples comes to be. 

When doubt is present, he knows, "There is doubt 
in me," or when doubt is not present, he knows, 
"There is no doubt in me." He knows how the arising 
of the nonarisen doubt comes to be; he knows how the 


121 


abandoning of the arisen doubt comes to be; he knows 
how the nonarising in the future of the abandoned 
doubt comes to be. 

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in 
mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating 
mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives 
contemplating mental objects in mental objects inter¬ 
nally and externally. He lives contemplating origina¬ 
tion-factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating 
dissolution-factors in mental objects, or he lives con¬ 
templating origination-and-dissolution-factors in men¬ 
tal objects. Or his mindfulness is established with the 
thought, "Mental objects exist," to the extent necessary 
just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives de¬ 
tached, and clings to naught in the world. Thus also, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in 
the mental objects of the five hindrances. 

2. The Five Aggregates of Clinging 

And further, monks, a monk lives contemplating 
mental objects in the mental objects of the five aggre¬ 
gates of clinging. 

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating 
mental objects in the mental objects of the five aggre¬ 
gates of clinging? 

Herein, monks, a monk thinks, "Thus is material 
form; thus is the arising of material form; and thus is 
the disappearance of material form. Thus is feeling; 
thus is the arising of feeling; thus is the disappearance 
of feeling. Thus is perception; thus is the arising of 
perception; thus is the disappearance of perception. 
Thus are formations; thus is the arising of formations; 
and thus is the disappearance of formations. Thus is 


122 



consciousness; thus is the arising of consciousness; and 
thus is the disappearance of consciousness." 

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in 
mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating 
mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives 
contemplating mental objects in mental objects inter¬ 
nally and externally. He lives contemplating origina¬ 
tion-factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating 
dissolution-factors in mental objects, or he lives con¬ 
templating origination-and-dissolution-factors in men¬ 
tal objects. Or his mindfulness is established with the 
thought, "Mental objects exist," to the extent necessary 
just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives de¬ 
tached, and clings to naught in the world. Thus also, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in 
the mental objects of the five aggregates of clinging. 

3. The Six Internal and the Six External Sense-Bases 

And further, monks, a monk lives contemplating 
mental objects in the mental objects of the six internal 
and the six external sense-bases. 

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating 
mental objects in the mental objects of the six internal 
and the six external sense-bases? 

Herein, monks, a monk knows the eye and visual 
forms, and the fetter that arises dependent on both 
(the eye and forms); he knows how the arising of the 
nonarisen fetter comes to be; he knows how the aban¬ 
doning of the arisen fetter comes to be; and he knows 
how the nonarising in the future of the abandoned 
fetter comes to be. 

He knows the ear and sounds . . . the nose and 
smells . . . the tongue and flavors . . . the body 


123 




and tactile objects . . . the mind and mental objects, 
and the fetter that arises dependent on both; he knows 
how the abandoning of the nonarisen fetter comes to 
be; and he knows how the nonarising in the future of 
the abandoned fetter comes to be. 

Thus, monks, the monk lives contemplating men¬ 
tal objects in mental objects internally, or he lives con¬ 
templating mental objects in mental objects externally, 
or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental ob¬ 
jects internally and externally. He lives contemplating 
origination-factors in mental objects, or he lives con¬ 
templating dissolution-factors in mental objects, or he 
lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-factors 
in mental objects. Or his mindfulness is established 
with the thought, “Mental objects exist," to the extent 
necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he 
lives detached, and clings to naught in the world. Thus, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in 
the mental objects of the six internal and the six external 
sense-bases. 

4. The Seven Factors of Enlightenment 

And further, monks, a monk lives contemplating 
mental objects in the mental objects of the seven factors 
of enlightenment. 

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating 
mental objects in the mental objects of the seven factors 
of enlightenment? 

Herein, monks, when the enlightenment-factor of 
mindfulness is present the monk knows, "The enlight¬ 
enment-factor of mindfulness is in me," or when the 
enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is absent, he 
knows, "The enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is 
not in me"; and he knows how the arising of the non- 


124 



arisen enlightenment-factor of mindfulness comes to 
be; and how perfection in the development of the 
arisen enlightenment-factor of mindfulness comes to 
be. 

When the enlightenment-factor of the investiga¬ 
tion of mental objects is present, the monk knows, 
"The enlightenment-factor of the investigation of men¬ 
tal objects is in me"; when the enlightenment-factor of 
the investigation of mental objects is absent, he knows, 
"The enlightenment-factor of the investigation of men¬ 
tal objects is not in me"; and he knows how the arising 
of the nonarisen enlightenment-factor of the investi¬ 
gation of mental objects comes to be, and how perfec¬ 
tion in the development of the arisen enlightenment- 
factor of the investigation of mental objects comes to 
be. 

When the enlightenment-factor of energy is pres¬ 
ent, he knows, "The enlightenment-factor of energy is 
in me"; when the enlightenment-factor of energy is 
absent, he knows, "The enlightenment-factor of en¬ 
ergy is not in me"; and he knows how the arising of 
the nonarisen enlightenment-factor of energy comes to 
be, and how perfection in the development of the ar¬ 
isen enlightenment-factor of energy comes to be. 

When the enlightenment-factor of joy is present, 
he knows, "The enlightenment-factor of joy is in me"; 
and when the enlightenment-factor of joy is absent, 
he knows, "The enlightenment-factor of joy is not in 
me"; and he knows how the arising of the nonarisen 
enlightenment-factor of joy comes to be, and how per¬ 
fection in the development of the arisen en¬ 
lightenment-factor of joy comes to be. 

When the enlightenment-factor of tranquility is 
present, he knows, "The enlightenment-factor of tran- 


125 



quility is in me"; when the enlightenment-factor of 
tranquility is absent, he knows, "The enlightenment- 
factor of tranquility is not in me"; and he knows how 
the arising of the nonarisen enlightenment-factor of 
tranquility comes to be, and how perfection in the de¬ 
velopment of the arisen enlightenment-factor of tran¬ 
quility comes to be. 

When the enlightenment-factor of concentration is 
present, he knows, "The enlightenment-factor of con¬ 
centration is in me"; when the enlightenment-factor of 
concentration is absent, he knows, "The enlighten¬ 
ment-factor of concentration is not in me"; and he 
knows how the arising of the nonarisen enlightenment- 
factor of concentration comes to be, and how perfection 
in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor 
of concentration comes to be. 

When the enlightenment-factor of equanimity is 
present, he knows, "The enlightenment-factor of 
equanimity is in me"; when the enlightenment factor 
of equanimity is absent, he knows, "The enlighten¬ 
ment-factor of equanimity is not in me"; and he knows 
how the arising of the nonarisen enlightenment-factor 
of equanimity comes to be, and how perfection in the 
development of the arisen enlightment-factor of equa¬ 
nimity comes to be. 

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in 
mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating 
mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives 
contemplating mental objects in mental objects inter¬ 
nally and externally. He lives contemplating origina¬ 
tion-factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating 
dissolution-factors in mental objects, or he lives con¬ 
templating origination-and-dissolution-factors in men¬ 
tal objects. Or his mindfulness is established with the 


126 



thought, "Mental objects exist," to the extent necessary 
just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives de¬ 
tached, and clings to naught in the world. Thus, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in 
mental objects of the seven factors of enlightenment. 

5. The Four Noble Truths 

And further, monks, a monk lives contemplating 
mental objects in the mental objects of the four noble 
truths. 

How monks, does a monk live contemplating men¬ 
tal objects in the mental objects of the four noble truths? 

Herein, monks, a monk knows, "This is suffer¬ 
ing," according to reality; he knows, "This is the origin 
of suffering," according to reality; he knows "This is 
the cessation of suffering," according to reality; he 
knows, "This is the road leading to the cessation of 
suffering," according to reality. 

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in 
mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating 
mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives 
contemplating mental objects in mental objects inter¬ 
nally and externally. He lives contemplating origina¬ 
tion-factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating 
dissolution-factors in mental objects, or he lives con¬ 
templating origination-and-dissolution-factors in men¬ 
tal objects. Or his mindfulness is established with the 
thought, "Mental objects exist," to the extent necessary 
just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives de¬ 
tached, and clings to naught in the world. Thus, 
monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in 
the mental objects of the four noble truths. 

Verily, monks, whosoever practices these four 
Foundations of Mindfulness in this manner for seven 


127 



years, then one of these two fruits may be expected by 
him: Highest Knowledge (Arhatship), here and now, 
or if some remainder of clinging is yet present, the state 
of Nonreturning. 

O monks, let alone seven years. Should any person 
practicing these four Foundations of Mindfulness in 
this manner for six years ... for five years . . . three 
years . . . two years . . . one year, then one of these 
two fruits may be expected by him: Highest Knowl¬ 
edge, here and now, or if some remainder of clinging 
is yet present, the state of Nonretuming. 

O monks, let alone a year. Should any person prac¬ 
tice these four Foundations on Mindfulness in this 
manner for seven months ... for six months . . . five 
months . . . four months . . . three months . . . two 
months ... a month . . . half a month, then one of 
these two fruits may be expected by him: Highest 
Knowledge, here and now, or if some remainder of 
clinging is yet present, the state of Nonreturning. 

O monks, let alone half a month. Should any per¬ 
son practice these four Foundations of Mindfulness in 
this manner, for a week, then one of these two fruits 
may be expected by him: Highest Knowledge, here and 
now, or if some remainder of clinging is yet present, 
the state of Nonreturning. 

Because of this it is said: "This is the only way, 
monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcom¬ 
ing of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of 
suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the 
attainment of Nirvana, namely the four Foundations 
of Mindfulness." 

Thus spoke the Blessed One. Satisfied, the monks 
approved of his words. 


128 



49 The Discourse on Mindfulness of 
Breathing 

(Anapanasati Sutta) 

Translated from the Pali by Nydnaponika 


Mindfulness of Breathing, monks, cultivated and reg¬ 
ularly practiced, is of great fruit and great benefit. 
Mindfulness of Breathing, cultivated and regularly 
practiced, brings to Perfection the four Foundations of 
Mindfulness. The four Foundations of Mindfulness, 
cultivated and regularly practiced, bring the seven Fac¬ 
tors of Enlightenment to perfection; the seven Factors 
of Enlightenment, cultivated and regularly practiced, 
bring wisdom and deliverance to perfection. 

And how cultivated and regularly practiced, is 
Mindfulness of Breathing of great fruit and benefit? 

Herein, monks, a monk having gone to the forest, 
to the foot of a tree, or to an empty place, sits down 
cross-legged, keeps his body erect and his mindfulness 
alert. Just mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes 
out. 


129 



I. The First Tetrad (Contemplation of the Body) 

1. Breathing in a long breath, he knows, "I breathe 
in a long breath"; breathing out a long breath, he 
knows, "I breathe out a long breath." 

2. Breathing in a short breath, he knows, "I breathe 
in a short breath"; breathing out a short breath, he 
knows, "I breathe out a short breath." 

3. "Experiencing the whole (breath-) body I shall 
breathe in," thus he trains himself; "Experiencing the 
whole (breath-) body I shall breathe out," thus he trains 
himself. 

4. "Calming the bodily function (of breathing) I 
shall breathe in," thus he trains himself; "Calming the 
bodily function (of breathing) I shall breathe out," thus 
he trains himself. 


II. The Second Tetrad (Contemplation of Feelings) 

5. "Experiencing rapture I shall breathe in (I shall 
breathe out)," thus he trains himself. 

6. "Experiencing happiness I shall breathe in (I 
shall breathe out)," thus he trains himself. 

7. "Experiencing the mental functions I shall 
breathe in (I shall breathe out)," thus he trains himself. 

8. "Calming the mental functions I shall breathe 
in (I shall breathe out)," thus he trains himself. 


III. The Third Tetrad (Contemplation of the Mind) 

9. "Experiencing the mind I shall breathe in (I shall 
breathe out)," thus he trains himself. 

10. "Gladdening the mind I shall breathe in (I shall 
breathe out)," thus he trains himself. 


130 



11. "Concentrating the mind, I shall breathe in (I 
shall breathe out)/' thus he trains himself. 

12. "Liberating the mind I shall breathe in (I shall 
breathe out)/' thus he trains himself. 


IV. The Fourth Tetrad (Contemplation of 
Mind-objects) 

13. "Contemplating impermanence I shall breathe 
in (I shall breathe out)/' thus he trains himself. 

14. "Contemplating dispassion I shall breathe in 
(I shall breathe out)/' thus he trains himself. 

15. "Contemplating cessation I shall breathe in (I 
shall breathe out)," thus he trains himself. 

16. "Contemplating relinquishment I shall breathe 
in (I shall breathe out)," thus he trains himself. 

17. In that way, cultivated and regularly practiced, 
monks, Mindfulness of Breathing brings great fruit and 
benefit. 


Perfecting the Foundations of Mindfulness 

And how cultivated, how regularly practiced brings 
Mindfulness of Breathing the four Foundations of 
Mindfulness to perfection? 

I. Whenever a monk mindfully breathes in and out 
a long breath, or a short breath; or when he trains 
himself to breathe in and out while experiencing the 
bodily function (of breathing); or while calming that 
function—at that time, monks, he dwells practicing 
body-contemplation on the body, ardent, clearly com¬ 
prehending, and mindful; having overcome covetous¬ 
ness and grief concerning the world. For, breathing in 
and out, monks, I say, is one of the bodily processes. 


131 



II. Whenever the monk trains himself to breathe 
in and out while experiencing rapture; or while expe¬ 
riencing happiness; or while experiencing the mental 
functions; or while calming the mental functions—at 
those times, monks, he dwells practicing feeling-con¬ 
templation on feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending, 
and mindful, having overcome covetousness and grief 
concerning the world. For the full attention to breath¬ 
ing in and out, I say, is one of the feelings. 

III. Whenever a monk trains himself to breathe in 
and out while experiencing the mind; or while glad¬ 
dening the mind; or while concentrating the mind; or 
while liberating the mind—at that time he dwells prac¬ 
ticing mind-contemplation on the mind, ardent, clearly 
comprehending, and mindful, having overcome cov¬ 
etousness and grief concerning the world. For one who 
lacks mindfulness and clear comprehension, I say, can¬ 
not develop Mindfulness of Breathing. 

IV. Whenever a monk trains himself to breathe in 
and out while contemplating impermanence, dispas- 
sion, cessation, or relinquishment—at that time he 
dwells practicing mind-object contemplation on mind- 
objects, ardent, clearly comprehending, and mindful, 
having overcome covetousness and grief concerning 
the world. Having wisely seen the abandoning of cov¬ 
etousness and grief, he looks on with perfect 
equanimity. 

Mindfulness of Breathing, monks, in that way cul¬ 
tivated and regularly practiced, brings the four Foun¬ 
dations of Mindfulness to perfection. 

And how do the four Foundations cultivated and 
regularly practiced, bring the seven Factors of Enlight¬ 
enment to perfection? 

Whenever a monk dwells in the contemplation of 


132 



body, feelings, mind, and mind-objects, ardent . . . 
unclouded mindfulness becomes established in him. 
And when unclouded mindfulness is established in 
him, at that time the enlightenment-factor “Mindful¬ 
ness" is initiated in the monk; at that time the monk 
develops the enlightenment-factor Mindfulness; at that 
time he gains perfection in the development of the 
enlightenment-factor ''Mindfulness.'' 

Dwelling mindful in that manner, he wisely in¬ 
vestigates, examines, and scrutinizes the respective ob¬ 
ject; and while doing so, the enlightenment-factor 
"Investigation of Reality" is initiated in the monk; at 
that time the monk develops the enlightenment-factor 
"Investigation of Reality"; at that time he gains per¬ 
fection in the development of the enlightenment-factor 
"Investigation of Reality." 

While he wisely investigates, examines, and scru¬ 
tinizes that object, unremitting energy is initiated in 
him. And when the unremitting factor "Energy" is 
initiated in him, at that time the monk develops the 
enlightenment-factor "Energy"; at that time he gains 
perfection in the development of the enlightenment- 
factor "Energy." 

In him possessed of energy unworldly rapture 
arises. And when in a monk possessed of energy un¬ 
worldly rapture arises, at that time the enlightenment- 
factor "Rapture" is initiated in him; at that time the 
monk develops the enlightenment-factor "Rapture"; at 
that time the monk gains perfection in the development 
of the enlightenment-factor "Rapture." 

The body and mind of one who is filled with rap¬ 
ture become tranquil. And when the body and mind 
of one who is filled with rapture become tranquil, at 
that time the enlightenment-factor "Tranquility" is in- 


133 



itiated in him; at that time the monk develops the en¬ 
lightenment-factor 'Tranquility." 

The mind of one who is tranquil and happy be¬ 
comes concentrated. And when the mind of a monk 
who is tranquil and happy becomes concentrated, at 
that time the enlightenment-factor "Concentration" is 
initiated in him; at that time the monk develops the 
enlightenment-factor "Concentration"; at that time he 
gains perfection in the development of the enlighten¬ 
ment-factor "Concentration." 

On the mind thus concentrated he looks with per¬ 
fect equanimity. And when looking on his concen¬ 
trated mind with perfect equanimity, at that time the 
enlightenment factor "Equanimity" is initiated in him; 
at that time the monk develops the enlightenment- 
factor "Equanimity"; at that time he gains perfection 
in the development of the enlightenment-factor 
"Equanimity." 

The four Foundations of Mindfulness, in that way 
cultivated and regularly practiced, bring the seven Fac¬ 
tors of Enlightenment to perfection. 

And how do the seven Factors of Enlightenment, 
cultivated and regularly practiced, bring wisdom and 
deliverance to perfection? 

Herein, monks, a monk develops the enlighten¬ 
ment-factors Mindfulness, Investigation of Reality, En¬ 
ergy, Rapture, Tranquility, Concentration, and 
Equanimity, based on detachment, based on dispas- 
sion, based on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. 

The seven Factors of Enlightenment, in that way 
cultivated and regularly practiced, bring wisdom and 
deliverance to perfection. 

Thus spoke the Exalted One. Glad in heart the 
monks rejoiced in the words of the Blessed One. 


134 



W Contemplation of Thought 

From Siksasamuccaya 

Translated from the Sanskrit by Edward Conze 


He searches all around for his thought. But what 
thought? It is either passionate, or hateful, or confused. 
What about the past, future, or present? What is past 
that is extinct, what is future that has not yet arrived, 
and the present has no stability. For thought, Kasyapa, 
cannot be apprehended, inside, or outside, or in be¬ 
tween both. For thought is immaterial, invisible, 
nonresisting, inconceivable, unsupported, and home¬ 
less. Thought has never been seen by any of the Bud¬ 
dhas, nor do they see it, nor will they see it. And what 
the Buddhas never see, how can that be an observable 
process, except in the sense that dharmas proceed by 
the way of mistaken perception? Thought is like a mag¬ 
ical illusion; by an imagination of what is actually un¬ 
real it takes hold of a manifold variety of rebirths. A 
thought is like the stream of a river, without any stay¬ 
ing power; as soon as it is produced it breaks up and 
disappears. A thought is like the flame of a lamp, and 
it proceeds through causes and conditions. A thought 


135 



is like lightning, it breaks up in a moment and does 
not stay on. . . . 

Searching for thought all round, he does not see 
it within or without. He does not see it in the skandhas, 
or in the elements, or in the sense-fields. Unable to see 
thought, he seeks to find the trend of thought, and 
asks himself: Whence is the genesis of thought? And 
it occurs to him that "where there is an object, there 
thought arises." Is then the thought one thing, and 
the object another? No, what is the object, just that is 
the thought. If the object were one thing, and the 
thought another, then there would be a double state 
of thought. So the object itself is just thought. Can then 
thought review thought? No, thought cannot review 
thought. As the blade of a sword cannot cut itself, so 
a thought cannot see itself. Moreover, vexed and 
pressed hard on all sides, thought proceeds, without 
any staying power, like a monkey or like the wind. It 
ranges far, bodiless, easily changing, agitated by the 
objects of sense, with the six sense-fields for its sphere, 
connected with one thing after another. The stability 
of thought, its one-pointedness, its immobility, its un- 
distraughtness, its one-pointed calm, its nondistrac¬ 
tion, that is on the other hand called mindfulness as 
to thought. 


136 



Not Dwelling on the Nonconditioned 

From the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra 
Translated from the Chinese by Nhat Hanh 


What does it mean, "not dwelling on the Noncondi- 
tioned"? The bodhisattva contemplates the reality of 
Emptiness but does not take Emptiness as an object of 
attainment. The bodhisattva practices the reality of 
Nonappearance and Nonpursuit but does not take 
Nonappearance or Nonpursuit as an object of attain¬ 
ment. He contemplates the reality of Noncreation but 
does not take Noncreation as an object of attainment. 
He meditates on the truth of Impermanence but does 
not abandon his work to serve and save. He meditates 
on Suffering but does not reject the world of births and 
deaths. He meditates on Extinction but does not em¬ 
brace Extinction. He meditates on Detachment but goes 
on realizing good things in the world. He meditates 
on the homeless nature of dharmas but continues to 
orientate himself toward the Good. He meditates on 
the reality of Neither-creation-nor-destruction but still 
undertakes the responsibility in the world of creations 
and destructions. He meditates on the reality of the 


137 




Ultimate but still dwells in the world of interdependent 
origins. He meditates on Nonaction but continues al¬ 
ways his acts of service and education. He meditates 
on Emptiness but does not abandon Great Compas¬ 
sion. He meditates on the Position of the True Dharma 
but does not follow a rigid path. He meditates on the 
Unreal, Impermanent, Unoriginated, Nonpossessed, 
and Markless nature of dharmas but does not abandon 
his career concerning merits, concentration, and wis¬ 
dom. Practicing in that way, the bodhisattva is de¬ 
scribed as "not dwelling on the Nonconditioned." He 
has wisdom but does not end his action in the realm 
of the conditioned; he has compassion but does not 
dwell in the Nonconditioned; he wants to realize his 
great Vow but he will not abandon the conditioned 
world. 


138 



W The Heart of the Prajnaparamita 

Translated from the Chinese by Nhat Hanh 


The bodhisattva Avalokita, while moving in the deep 
course of the Perfect Wisdom, shed light on the five 
aggregates and found them equally empty. After this 
penetration, he overcame all pain. 

''Listen, Sariputra, form is emptiness, emptiness 
is form, form does not differ from emptiness, empti¬ 
ness does not differ from form. The same thing is true 
with feeling, perception, mental functioning, and 
consciousness. 

"Here, Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with 
emptiness; they are neither produced nor destroyed, 
neither defiled nor immaculate, neither increasing nor 
decreasing. Therefore, in emptiness there is neither 
form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor mental func¬ 
tioning, nor consciousness; no eye, or ear, or nose, or 
tongue, or body, or mind; no form, no sound, no smell, 
no taste, no touchable, no object of mind, no realm of 
elements (from sight to mind-consciousness), no in¬ 
terdependent origins (from ignorance to death and de¬ 
cay), no extinction of death and decay, no suffering, 


139 



no origination of suffering, no extinction, no path, no 
wisdom, no attainment. 

"Because there is no attainment, the bodhisattva, 
basing on the Perfection of Wisdom, finds no obstacles 
for his mind. Having no obstacles, he overcomes fear, 
liberating himself forever from illusion and assault and 
realizing perfect Nirvana. All Buddhas in the past, 
present, and future, thanks to this Perfect Wisdom, 
arrive to full, right, and universal Enlightenment. 

"Therefore one should know that the Perfect Wis¬ 
dom is a great mantra, is the highest mantra, is the 
unequaled mantra, the destroyer of all suffering, the 
incorruptible truth. A mantra of Prajriaparamita should 
therefore be proclaimed. It is this: 'Gone, gone, gone 
to the other shore, gone together to the other shore. 
O Awakening! All hail!' " 


140 



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In this beautiful and lucid guide, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers 
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Thich Nhat Hanh is author of Living Buddha , Living Christ 
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Cover design: Elizabeth Elsas 
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